Interview with General Secretary of Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) On His Recent Trip to the Affected Areas of Cyclone Giri and His Assistance to the Victims

Q: We heard that you had gone to the affected areas and helped. Where did you go?

A: Mainly I went to Kyauk Pru, Mraybon and Pauktaw Township.

Q: What did you contribute there?

A: Among the three towns, the biggest damage was felt in Mraybon and Pauktaw. I donated packages of instant noodle soup and clothes. When we were there, we gave 100 bags of rice, 160 pieces of Tarpaulins (12’ x 15’) and 1700 sheets of corrugated roof. To dig water wells, we also donated 500,000 kyat for Angu Village, 400,000 kyat for Taungnyo Village and 300,000 kyat for another village.

Q: What do the victims need the most right now?

A: The main need would be sampans and fishing nets since they make a living working out at sea. But to tell you from our experience in the Irrawaddy Delta region, the sampans should be the ones that people can actually use for their work. They should be the ones that they can take out to the sea and do fishing. In almost every village, thousands of sampans and fishing boats were destroyed by the storm. So we want them to have sampans and fishing nets back. Another thing is farmlands. They were damaged by saltwater due to the failure of dikes and embankments. Therefore, those dikes and embankments should be fixed so that farmers can farm next season. This will require efforts and commitment from the government and other powerful organizations. To grow again in the saltwater-damaged farmland, we need special paddy species that can survive in that environment. Now the farmers are not only struggling to get food on the table, they have neither specific paddy species nor money to farm again. Therefore, it is very important to issue grants to them. Also, water wells are contaminated with saltwater and they need to be fixed as well.

Q: We heard health condition of the people in the affected areas is deteriorating. What did you find?

A: We met with nurses in about 15 villages that we visited. I also gave away packages of electrolyte solution and bottles of eye cleansing solution in the villages. According to the nurses, not the whole village but a few people are suffering from diarrhea due to the contaminated water. What I am especially concerned with is that people have not rebuilt their houses yet. They are temporarily living in the makeshift tarpaulin tents. It is not safe. Now the cold season is around the corner. When the weather gets cold, the health condition could get worse. The water-borne diseases could spread in the long term.

Q: We heard about shortage of drinking water. When you were there, what did you see in terms of how they are trying to resolve that problem?

A: Yes. There is a shortage of drinking water. In the contaminated wells and ponds, saltwater sinks and the freshwater stays atop. So people collect and use the water sitting at the top portion of the well. But it is not that safe to drink. Some people still use water contaminated with saltwater. Some use the water from the well that is full with garbage. I gave some money to remove the garbage from that well. Some villages are in serious trouble. People have to paddle in their canoe and sampans for a couple miles just to get drinking water. I plan to go back there and resolve that water crisis in consultation with villagers.

Q: What are the relief agencies there doing now as a priority?

A: Some agencies are still collecting data. They have not got the money to help. But WFP (World Food Program) is giving away rice. I was told by the WFP personnel that they would be giving rice for up to 3 months. But I told them it would not be enough. I told them that it is also important to help the victims get back on their feet. I also saw Mraybon Township Association and Rakhine Thahaya Organization are handing out clothes to the victims. Also, I saw a few people staying in the white tents distributed by the international NGOs. So I asked them why other people were not getting these tents. They replied that they were afraid to get them because the tent is to be returned later and if they accidently cause a hole or some type of damage, they could get thrown to prison.

Q: Then, what is the government doing there to help the people?

A: I saw some wood and corrugated roof from the government at Mraybon Jetty. They were given to Buddhist monasteries through government channels.

Q: How long it will take for the people from the affected areas to go back to their original condition?

A: It will take quite a while because in villages, only house pylons are left and the rest of the house is gone. They have no money to rebuild. To rebuild their home, to put a roof on their house, and to be able to do what they were doing for a living, it will take a year or two, in my opinion to go back to their original condition. But that depends on how much assistance they receive. Right now, cold season is coming. I am very concerned that diseases might break out more intensively if they go through cold season living homeless. And, nobody is helping them with water wells.

Q: Did you go on this trip as an ALD leader?

A: Yes, as ALD. We donated and assisted with our members’ contribution.

Q: Could you tell me the names of the villages that you visited?

A: Among the hard-hit quarters in the town, I went to the ones where most of the poor people live such as North Quarter, South Quarter, Pyintharhtwatwa Quarter, Taungpaw Quarter, and coastal areas. Among the villages, Angu Village, Ywathikay Village, Taungnyo Village, Thawinzatekay Village, Kangyemaw Village, Dagon Village, Watkhaung Village, Kanthar Village and Gaungphyu Village. Some villages that I did not go to, but the villagers visited me, are Phyuchay Village, and Thanthayar Village. The hardest hit village I visited is Kyuntharyar Village.

Q: We heard some villages have not received any assistance yet. Did you hear that too?

A: Yes. I did. They wanted me to come. But I could not. To reach there, we must go in canoe and walk for 2 or 3 miles. Since I was not in good health, I could not go even if I wanted to. I knew that help has not gotten there yet because it is too hard to reach these villages.

Q: What are the names of these villages?

A: I could not remember the names. From Taungnyo Village, you still have to travel a lot farther. Even in Taungnyo Village, the mud was up to my knee. It was very difficult to travel. Even from Taungnyo Village, it is still far away to reach these villages.