Nargis one year on: Labutta voices
Labutta, a small town in the southwest of the delta region, was devastated by Cyclone Nargis. Here, survivors talk about their continuing struggle.
Before Nargis, we had about 5,000-6,000 local residents – only 300-400 are still alive. The area looked as if it had been swept away with a broom. It was so terrible.
Our main concern has been clean drinking water. The Aung Min Ga Lar reservoir, which covers about five acres, was badly affected by the cyclone. We drained the dirty waters about seven times to try to make it safe. That’s the main way we have been able to help local people.
We have also helped to distribute five tonnes of food aid. More supplies come in from time to time but it barely meets the demand.
People have to rely on themselves. Some have managed to get work with private reconstruction companies that are recruiting day labourers. Others have to eat fish and frogs from nearby rivers to survive.
As for our monastery, only the building used for ordinations was left. Most of the main section was destroyed – just the pillars were left standing.
We can’t afford to rebuild on the same scale. We have to rely on friends and acquaintances to chip in what they can. We even collect pieces of drift wood.
I was separated from my parents during the cyclone – they died in the storm. I haven’t got anybody to rely on and I have had to move on from one place to another.
At first, I didn’t have any shelter or food so I sold my earrings and went to Kawthaung to look for a job. Once I arrived in Kawthaung, I kept hearing stories about human-smuggling rings and I myself encountered one of them.
I was so frightened. I took refuge at a monastery, where I told a monk about losing my parents. He was very sympathetic and made arrangements to send me over to his patrons in Ranong in Thailand.
There, I was looked after by a caring family who treated me as one of their own. I have lived with them ever since.
After the cyclone I endured homelessness and hunger. Now I can say I have peace of mind to some extent. It’s been a year since I lost my parents. I’m still feeling sad and I miss them all the time.
I have a salt refinery, fishery and an agriculture business. Nargis has affected them severely.
At the salt refinery, the fields were left untouched while we tried to replace the damaged machinery. Some of our equipment and cattle were stolen and the remaining buildings were destroyed or parts were taken away. I have lost so much.
It’s true that the government supported us with funding, machinery and oil – but it is not as efficient as using cattle.
The weather has also not helped – when we wanted to sow seeds there was no rain. So, in the year since Nargis, the agriculture business has suffered so much.
Another big loss for us businessmen is that of skilled labourers. Before Nargis, we had a group of about 25 workers. After Nargis, we have just four or five. It is the same at the salt refinery.
There are just too few people in the massive fields. The shortage of labour is big trouble for us.
Another challenge is a lack of warehouses for the salt refinery businesses. We have tried to harvest refined salt from the fields – ideally it should then be stored in a shelter. That is not always possible and the crop has to be sold as quickly as possible at the prevailing market prices.
Despite the low yields from the salt harvest, the prices are falling due to lack of warehousing and storage facilities. It is hurting a lot of businesses.