After the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, communication with people inside Burma has been sporadic and extremely difficult.
But Burmese blogs and news sites have been quick to react by posting vivid eyewitness accounts of the disaster and mobilising fundraising efforts.
First-hand accounts of the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Nargis and its aftermath have been trickling out of Burma.
Cyclone Nargis succeeded where the junta failed last autumn in virtually obliterating phone and internet access out of Burma. People’s stories have been slow to emerge because of such practical difficulties – and this is only compounded by a pervasive fear of the ever-watchful authorities.
Nevertheless the news site, based in India and run by Burmese exiles, has managed to make the most of long-standing personal networks to gather some compelling accounts of loss and survival.
One woman sheltering in a church told Mizzima that little was left for her: “My youngest child is only 10 months old and my husband is paralysed. We can do nothing now and face a bleak future.”
Mizzima editor Mung Pi told the BBC News website that people were very cautious about talking of their experiences. Most eyewitness accounts need to remain anonymous.
“We have been randomly calling people. We get lucky one out of 10 times. People we know, friends in Rangoon, contact us when they can send an email but they are wary of spending too much time online.”
Diaspora bloggers have written of their repeated attempts to reach family in Burma. Myat Thu http://myatthura.blogspot.com/2008/05/cyclone-nargis.html described his attempts to contact home.
“Sunday morning, still no phone contact. Finally, I tried to call my friend who has a mobile phone. He said the situation was really bad. He promised to go and see my family.”
Myat Thura finally heard that his family was safe but “water was pouring into the house and my family had to move things into the rooms where it was dry.”
He told the BBC News website that the sites he regularly reads by active Burmese bloggers haven’t had any updates since the cyclone. Rangoon-based blogger http://madyjune.wordpress.com/ had not – at the time of writing – managed to post updates.
Eyewitness: coping with cyclone aftermath
Blogs and news sites have been chronicling how the residents of Rangoon are struggling to cope days after the storm hit.
Stories of monks and local residents pulling together and co-ordinating local clean-ups and sharing water could be found on the Democratic Voice of Burma other sites such as Irrawaddy.
Rangoon by night presents new challenges for people in the city according to one account – http://english.mizzimaburmese.com/nargis-impact/18-nargis-impact/447-today-rangoon-eyewitness-account
“Many areas in Rangoon are pitch dark at nights, including areas around Sule Pagoda, which is unusually not lit. Without a torch it is dangerous to walk on the streets, as jagged edges of uprooted trees protrude into sidewalks,” says one resident.
The blog http://ratchasima.net/2008/05/06/eyewitness-accounts-of-cyclone-and-after/ says people have been turned away from hospitals because of the lack of electricity and water.
The Burmese languageÂ http://www.yoma3.org/news/ got news of the devastation at the Laputta Township http://www.yoma3.org/news/2008/may/laputta-reality-situation-and-nothing-help.html in south-western Burma which was hardest hit by the cyclone.
Aye Kyu who was elected MP for Laputta in the 1990 elections highlighted the security threats emerging after days without aid: “Survivors come to the town brandishing their swords. They are very angry. People are worried about security,” he said.
One Burmese man in Rangoon who runs a small welfare organisation told the BBC via an online chat that very little help was forthcoming from the authorities, which is why everybody was working for themselves.
He is hoping to gather a group of people and go southwest to the worst-affected parts of the country to offer aid and assistance.
“Only city people were doing work, cleaning roads, cutting down trees. However they [the authorities] have not done not much yet,” he said.
When the internet connection improves he will update his about civil society initiatives in Rangoon with his plans.
Burmese diaspora – Anger at the junta
The anger felt towards the junta and its reluctance to accept offers of aid is palpable in a number of blogs.
The blog http://www.mayburma.com/2008_05_01_archive.html is very clear about where culpability lies.
“While the military government is still going ahead to legitimate and secure their power and their individual family wealth, the people … are now facing death, loss of homes and starvation.”
London-based Burmese blogger Ko Htike http://ko-htike.blogspot.com/ is one of a number of cyber-dissidents outside the country using his Burmese language blog to spread a sense of urgency about the disaster.
“The security threat could worsen, there could be infectious diseases, the government delay of two days in accepting the UN offer meant NGO workers couldn’t apply for visas,” he says.
The author of another Burmese language http://kopaw07.blogspot.com/ asks: “Where are the army leaders who think of themselves as saviours of Burma? There is no help for people as they have to help themselves. We have to get rid of them.”
Fundraising for Burma
Nyi Lunn Seck’s http://nyilynnseck.blogspot.com/ updated his Burmese language blog from the hard hit Mingalartaungnyunt township five days after the cyclone hit.
He urges all readers pay attention to the crisis: “It was very frightening. Many villages were entirely wiped out, ” he says. “Why don’t you help us?
Ko Htike has urged everybody reading his blog to help fundraise for the victims of the cyclone. From the UK he has already raised over Â£1,000.
Many other overseas Burmese groups have been posting cyclone appeals such as the American University Student Campaign for Burma http://auburma.blogspot.com/ and this posted by the Burmese community in Singapore.
The Niknayman blog http://niknayman.blogspot.com/ also posts a comprehensive list of donation sites.