x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Myanmar survivors to pay for aid

Myanmar's military regime is giving desperately needed aid to cyclone survivors on credit, officials say.

People receiving food aid in May in Dedaye, some 130km south-west of Yangon.
People receiving food aid in May in Dedaye, some 130km south-west of Yangon.

Myanmar's military regime is giving desperately needed aid to cyclone survivors on credit, requiring them to pay back to the government any assistance offered, officials said. The secretive military last week officially allowed local journalists to visit the disaster zone for the first time since Cyclone Nargis slammed into the country on May 2. During the tour, local officials laid out their system for delivering aid to farmers in the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, where entire villages were washed away by the storm that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing.

The officials insisted that government aid had allowed for farmers to plant their fields and for fishermen to return to their boats - but insisted that the cyclone victims would have to reimburse the regime for the aid received. "If everything is free of charge, its value is very low. If something must be paid back, then they try their best to do it. This is the system," one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The government will distribute everything for them through a payback system. Otherwise, controlling the aid will be very difficult." About 2.4 million people are struggling to piece together their lives after the storm, according to UN estimates. Farmers have no choice but to accept the loans, but say they don't know how they will ever repay them. "We have received power tillers and diesel on credit from the government. Even then, we still need more help to get bank loans so that we will have cash to hire field hands," said Kyi Win, 57, a farm owner in Sat San village outside Bogalay.

But local officials insisted that farmers were ready to start surviving on their own. "The World Food Programme is delivering rice for villagers. Even if they stop delivering rice, villagers can feed themselves with their own income," said Zaw Myo Nyunt, a local official in Sat San. It's not just the farmers questioning Myanmar's official aid system. Construction companies have donated more than 100 new wooden homes in Sat San and the nearby village of Kyaine Chaung Gyi, but the people living there have been given no deed to the property nor any indication of how long they will be allowed to use the homes.

Most of the homes have gone to widows with children who lost their husbands in the storm. The new houses have been built in the middle of makeshift emergency settlements otherwise filled with bamboo and tarpaulin tents. "Five of my six children were killed in the cyclone. I'm now living with my granddaughter in this new house. I lost everything in the storm," Aye Thein, 63, said. *AFP