Friday, March 13, 2009

Villages Reluctant to Take in Roadside Refugees

The Irrawaddy News

More than a thousand people whose homes were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis are still taking refuge in villages along the Laputta-Myaungmya road, nearly a year after the cyclone struck, and months after being forced to leave roadside camps.

“The people from the Three Mile, Five Mile and Yadanar Dipa camps have been allowed to stay in villages near Laputta Township,” said one woman in her 30s living in the village of Painmwe Taung.

A row of makeshift shelters seen from the Laputta-Myaungmya road (Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)

“But the authorities don’t want us to stay near the road because they are afraid people driving by will see us,” she added.

Although the World Food Program (WFP) continues to provide assistance to victims of the disaster, many say that they are still struggling to survive without jobs or permanent places to live.

WFP provides about 6 pyi (around 1.5 liters) of rice once a month, along with some beans and a little oil and salt, but the government has already stopped supporting us,” said one man who lost 10 members of his family in the cyclone.

“It has been almost a year, but we still have no work and nowhere to live, and we are afraid the authorities will keep forcing us to move from place to place,” he added.

Most of the former camp residents have been living in simple structures covered with tarpaulin sheets. However, as Burma enters its hottest season, many are finding life in these makeshift shelters almost unbearable.

As the hottest season of the year begins, life inside these shelters is becoming even more stifling. (Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)

“It gets very hot under the tarpaulins, so we can’t stay inside during the day,” said one cyclone survivor. “If a child or an adult stays inside, they will get a heat rash.”

But the heat is not the only source of discomfort.

Many Nargis victims say that local authorities in villages near Laputta Township are ignoring their needs and neglecting their children’s education.

They also say that local villagers treat them as unwelcome intruders.

“The local heads of villages and villagers discriminate against us. When we approach their villages, they watch us carefully, as if we were thieves,” said a Nargis victim from Yway Village, Laputta Township.

Tarpaulin sheets cover the “homes” of those left homeless by Cyclone Nargis. (Photo: Aung Thet Wine/The Irrawaddy)

Despite the hardships of their homeless existence, many of the displaced Nargis victims say they can’t imagine returning to the villages they left behind.

“Several members of my family were killed by the storm, so I don’t want to return to the place where they died,” said one man in his 40s.

“Nobody knows when we will experience another disaster like this again,” he added, revealing a deep-seated fear common among many of those uprooted by Cyclone Nargis—that they will remain permanently at the mercy of the elements.

Women who lost their husbands to the storm are particularly vulnerable. According to several people living in these shifting communities on the edge of ordinary village life, a number of women have already turned to prostitution to support their families.

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