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Burma: Myanmar Mosque Helps Cyclone Victims

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  • Zafar Khan
    Myanmar Mosque Helps Cyclone Victims By IslamOnline.net & News Agencies Wed. May. 7, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2008
      Myanmar Mosque Helps Cyclone Victims
      By IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
      Wed. May. 7, 2008


      YANGON — A mosque in central Yangon, Myanmar's former
      capital and biggest city, is extending assistance to
      hundreds of households in the vicinity affected by the
      fallout of the devastating cyclone that has battered
      the Asian country.
      "People are angry not at the shopkeepers, but at the
      government," Dawood, a Muslim elder, told Reuters on
      Wednesday, May 7, standing on the steps of the mosque
      and stroking his wispy beard.

      The mosque has bought a pump powered by kerosene to
      supply hundreds of households with water from an
      artesian well that sits beneath it.

      Women and children, holding buckets and tubs, queued
      for water outside the mosque.

      Although the former capital avoided the kind of
      devastation that ravaged the Irrawaddy delta to the
      southwest, killing at least 22,000 and leaving another
      41,000 missing, people are struggling for basic

      There is still no electricity in the rubble-strewn
      city four days after Nargis uprooted trees, severed
      telephone cables and mangled billboards on the

      Most shops had sold out of candles and batteries and
      there was no word when power would be restored.
      The city, formally called Rangoon, used to be one of
      Asia's most verdant cities.

      "We hope electricity will be back in one or two weeks,
      but who knows?" said Dawood.

      "No one is doing anything about it at the moment."

      Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more
      than 53 million population.

      The largest group of Myanmar Muslims is the
      ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the
      Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of

      Less numbered are the Indian-descended Muslims who
      live in Yangon and ethnic-Chinese Muslims, known as
      the Panthay.

      Roaring Prices

      Anger and despair are growing among the city's 5
      million residents as petrol queues stretch for
      kilometers and food prices soar.

      Double-lines of buses, trucks and cars queued for
      hours for compressed natural gas and petrol at filling
      stations open 24 hours a day.

      Petrol is rationed to two gallons per vehicle. Prices
      have more than doubled since Saturday.

      "I'm tired, hungry and thirsty," said Po Ya Kyang, 29,
      who had waited for four hours and was still 500 meters
      from the filling station.

      A sudden fuel price hike last August sparked protests
      against the ruling junta and its disastrous handling
      of the economy.

      At least 31 people died in the army's ensuing

      For now, any repeat of the protests appears a distant

      "There won't be demonstrations," said one taxi driver.

      "People don't want to be shot."

      Vegetables are also being sold at three times last
      week's prices.

      A cabbage costs 1,000 Myanmar kyat, or about $1,
      instead of the usual 250 kyat.

      "It's because trucks are charging so much to bring
      goods into Yangon," one female vegetable seller told

      The military junta insists it has enough rice stocks
      to keep people fed, but the price of small bags of the
      staple have doubled since the cyclone tore through the
      delta, the country's rice bowl.

      Black market money changers loitering on street
      corners say the price of gold has dropped by a quarter
      because people are selling their jewelry for cash.

      "Everyone wants kyat so they can buy food," said money
      changer Ko Thin.

      Many blame the junta, which has admitted it is
      struggling to cope but which still appears reluctant
      to open its doors to a full-scale international relief
      effort in the hardest-hit areas.

      The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Wednesday
      that 22 tones of emergency relief supplies are waiting
      at the Myanmar border as the military authorities have
      yet to allow them to enter.

      "We are awaiting confirmation of exactly when the
      trucks carrying the aid can get across the border, and
      it may take time to reach Yangon, but we will be
      moving as fast as possible," said Janet Lim, director
      of UNHCR Asia Pacific bureau.

      "We are really facing a major catastrophe," said UN
      emergency relief coordinator John Homes.

      «Massive damage, casualties very high
      Emergency for food and drinkable water»
      Interview with Joe Belliveau, Médecins Sans Frontières
      operation manager for Myanmar


      What is the current situation on the ground in
      «We don't know the full extent of the situation, but
      from what we've seen in the southwestern corner of the
      Irrawady delta, the damage is massive and casualties
      are very high. Many people have also lost their homes,
      and their sources of food and clean water».

      What have the teams on the ground seen in terms of
      destruction and people who have been affected by the
      «Our field teams have seen destruction on a massive
      scale in the Irrawady delta. In some of the areas
      we've so far accessed, 95% of the houses and other
      buildings are destroyed».

      Where do you currently have teams working?
      «In Yangon, we have teams delivering food and plastic
      sheeting, as well as providing water and sanitation to
      groups of people who lost their homes, and our five
      long-running clinics in Yangon are open for
      consultations. In the Irrawady delta, we have several
      teams operating in villages in the southwestern most
      part of the delta. We have about 35 staff there with
      supplies (medical supplies, plastic sheeting and food)
      and are in the process of scaling up as fast as we

      What are the most urgent needs for the population?
      «The most urgent needs for the population are food,
      drinking water, shelter and medical care».

      Is it difficult for Medecins Sans Frontieres to work
      in Myanmar? Do you have the support of the government?
      «We normally face restrictions in Myanmar including
      lengthy visa application procedures, restrictions on
      movements within the country and denial of access to
      certain parts of the country. Responding to
      emergencies is generally difficult if the emergency
      occurs outside our normal project areas as it usually
      takes a long time to negotiate access to new areas in
      the country. Nevertheless, we are able to operate in a
      significant way in four states in Myanmar».

      Are the MSF teams having problems in accessing the
      worst hit areas?
      «So far the problems accessing the worst hit areas
      have been logistical, but we will need more supplies
      and more people to support our operations and for that
      we will need the government's permission to bring in
      international staff and cargo planes».

      Have any of the international or national staff been
      directly affected by the cyclone?
      «Most of our staff were affected in terms of some
      degree of material damage. All our staff are ok

      Have any of MSF’s long-term projects or patients been
      affected by the cyclone?
      «Our five clinics in Yangon were damaged but we were
      still able to restart our programs almost immediately
      while carrying out repairs. A few dozen of our
      HIV/AIDS patients also lost their anti-retroviral
      treatment in the cyclone. We have been able to
      re-supply all of them».

      What kind of work were you doing before the cyclone?
      «We work with the Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine
      state who are not recognized as legitimate citizens by
      the authorities and who therefore face severe economic
      hardship, harassment and, at times, violence. Malaria
      is a major killer in this part of Myanmar. Last year
      we treated more than 200,000 patients for malaria
      mainly in Rakhine. In Shan and Kachin states and in
      Yangon, our focus is on HIV/AIDS - and major and
      under-addressed health emergency in Myanmar. Well over
      100,000 are in urgent need of ART in order to survive.
      The government, UN and NGO's combined provide ART for
      about 11,000 patients, 9000 of whom are MSF patients.

      Have you treated any wounded people in your clinics?
      «In our clinics in Yangon, we have only treated a few
      wounded people. However, in the delta about half the
      consultations we've done so far are for wounded».

      Are you treating any people for problems related to
      the lack of food or fresh water? What kinds of
      problems are you seeing?
      «We are concerned about diarrhea and tetanus and
      continue to distribute food and chlorinate water in
      order to help prevent major malnutrition and diseases
      related to poor quality water».

      Are the relief teams having difficulties entering
      Burma? What is the visa situation?
      «Cargo planes are just now starting to arrive in
      Myanmar. Although the government has indicated it will
      facilitate clearance of these supplies it remains to
      be seen how far it will follow through on this».

      Are you planning to send extra supplies to help the
      «MSF also has several cargo planes lined up to go to
      Myanmar in the coming days, the first of which leaves
      tomorrow (Friday)».

      09 maggio 2008

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