Friday, May 1, 2009

No Land, No Home, No Hope

PYAPON, Irrawaddy Delta— When she sees other families in her neighborhood receiving housing materials to rebuild their houses, 43-year-old Khin Yee’s hopes lift. But for the most part, she is desperately depressed.

Prior to Cyclone Nargis, Khin Yee lived in a small house that sat alongside a paddy field, about one mile from Mhawbi Village, near Pyapon. Her husband, a rice farmer, was killed in the storm that ravaged the region on May 2-3 last year.

A man points to the hut where 12 members of his family are currently living. (Photo: Min Khet Maung/The Irrawaddy)

Now she is too traumatized to stay at the old place, and has moved close to Mhawbi, where she stays with her three children in a makeshift shelter.

“I have no land on which to build a house, even if I was given the housing materials,” she said. “I was promised by some volunteers from a humanitarian agency that they would build a house for me, but that it would only be possible when I own some land.”

Khin Yee said she has no money to buy land, and no relatives she can borrow from or share with.

With a crack in her voice, Khin Yee said she has all but given up hope.

There are hundreds of people like Khin Yee in the areas devastated by the cyclone who have been left without land.

“We have been urging the [Burmese] government to tackle this [land] problem for several months, but so far, we haven't seen any action from the government," said a United Nations official, who is involved in rehabilitation projects. (JEG's: quite the opposite the government is selling the land by plots and or building for the elite who can afford it.. .)

He said that the government should consider the issue seriously as landless families are still stranded and unable to support themselves.

"We would give shelter to the homeless, but it's the government's duty to distribute property to the landless families," the UN official said.

In the meantime, most of those made landless by the deadly storm are living in makeshift huts, mainly built from bamboo and sheets of tarpaulin.

Next door—as such—to Khin Yee's house is a dilapidated shelter that has no walls and no stilts. A family of eight lives there, and since it is built on the ground, the family has to sleep on plastic sheets on a cold bare dirt floor.

The head of the family said she has been told repeatedly by the local authorities that they were preparing to move her family back to their former village.

But, as she points out, the problem is that they have nowhere to go back to. Everything was destroyed by the cyclone, including the arable land which was ruined by salt water.

She said that there are more than 20 homeless families from Mhawbi who are currently waiting for land on which they can build a house.

She said that all the families are worried about the upcoming rainy season.

"My hut is just one foot above the stream," she said, pointing to the four-foot-wide waterway running alongside the road in front of her shelter. “I'm afraid our hut will get washed away as soon as the heavy rains come and cause flooding.”


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