Burma: Myanmar Mosque Helps Cyclone Victims
- 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
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
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 MSFs 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
09 maggio 2008