A year after the devastating cyclone that laid waste large swaths of Burma, more than half a million people are still living in makeshift shacks which are unlikely to withstand the imminent monsoons, according to Save the Children. Sea water has inundated the Irrawaddy delta and turned millions of acres of Burma’s most fertile rice fields into salt-contaminated wastelands. Aid coordinators say 240,000 people in remote villages still rely on drinking water that is delivered by boat.
However, a year on from the disaster foreign NGOs working on the ground say the relief effort has gone far better than they had hoped. “What has been achieved over the last year has much exceeded what anybody predicted would be possible,” said Paul Sender, head of the UN’s health cluster in Burma. Sender said that the predicted outbreak of malnutrition and disease had not happened.
Dan Collison, director of Save the Children’s emergency programme in Burma, said: “Not one Save the Children truck was stopped from reaching its destination, and in those first few weeks we reached 160,000 people, even when we weren’t supposed to. We have no evidence at all that the regime confiscated or misappropriated aid, even in the early days.”
There are still frustrations apparent. The recovery plan for the next three years is predicted to cost $54 million, but so far all that has been made available is $6 million. Despite the optimism among aid workers, there continues to be no sign that Burma is moving towards democracy. This was underlined by the EU’s decision in April to renew sanctions against Burma. Numerous human rights abuses continue to be documented.
In November Zarganar, a popular comedian active in Burma’s democracy movement, was sentenced to 45 years in jail for publicly criticising the government’s slow response to Cyclone Nargis. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the nonviolent movement for human rights and democracy in Burma and Nobel laureate, has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years in an effort to prevent her from assuming her role as the rightfully elected Prime Minister of Burma. The junta has extended her house arrest for another 12 months. She was due to be released in May.