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MYANMAR: Thousands unable to return home

LABUTTA, 9 July 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of cyclone survivors living in displaced persons camps in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta worry about the prospects of returning to their villages, many of which were devastated by the category four storm.

There are 9,000 internally displaced (IDPs) in three camps in Myanmar’s southern Labutta township, a significant drop over earlier numbers, when up to 40,000 people were staying in 45 camps of varying sizes.

“We’ve been told we can stay one more month. After that we don’t know what we will do,” said Phu Gyi, a 33-year-old fisherman from Shwe Kyun Tha village, about three hours by boat from Labutta. He lives in a tent at the government-run “3 mile” IDP camp - a reference to its distance from the town centre.

The government is reportedly offering incentives to encourage residents to return, including covering transport costs, as well as a number of food and non-food related items. In addition, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper announced the construction of some 4,000 homes in the area.

However, returning now could prove difficult.

Phu Gyi’s village was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which left more than 138,000 dead or missing on 2 and 3 May, and affected some 2.4 million.

The UN now estimates that just under half this number will need assistance for the next six months.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 724,000 people in the delta alone will require food aid for at least six months.

In Labutta, one of the worst-hit areas, just over half the 374,000 inhabitants were severely affected by the cyclone and half its 500 villages destroyed.

Bleak prospects

In Shwe Kyun Tha, 800 of the village’s 1,000 inhabitants perished, Phu Gyi said. He worries about looking after his five children in the months ahead. “How am I supposed to feed my family?” he asked - a question echoed around the camp.

“I have five children. Is it reasonable to expect that I will be able to care for them?” asked one woman.

“My village was washed away completely. I have nothing,” chimed in another.

Such stories of loss are common among camp residents. Two months on, most do nothing more than while away the hours in their tents in a bid to escape the stifling heat or the torrential rains that accompany it.

While conditions in the camps are far from ideal, residents at least have access to regular food as well as water and sanitation facilities.

WFP distributes a two-week ration of rice, beans, salt and oil to camp residents.

Sitting under the blue tent he shares with three other families at the camp, Phu Gyi knows things could be worse – particularly if he returns prematurely.

Having lost his home, his boat and his fishing nets, his prospects for restarting his life at this early stage look all but impossible.

“If we can, we will try to restart our lives. Perhaps I can return to fishing, but I lost everything in the storm. I will need help,” he said.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Natural Disasters, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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