Tue 29 Jul 2008
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Dozens of construction firms have arrived in the cyclone-hit region to take on government-subsidised house building projects.
NEARLY three months after a cyclone devastated Myanmar’s southern Irrawaddy delta, local firms are helping survivors replace their makeshift shelters with eco-friendly modern homes.
Cyclone Nargis swept away every home in its path, leaving thousands of Myanmar people with only driftwood and donated plastic sheets for shelter. The village of Auk Pyon Wa near the mouth of the Irrawaddy river lost 221 of its people when the storm hit, flattening it and surrounding it by water on all sides.
For the past three months the village’s survivors – 380 by official count – have been living together in temporary shelters donated by monks. Now they finally face the prospect of having a home again as dozens of construction firms arrive in the region to take on government-subsidized projects. The Pun Hlaing Construction Group is building 125 wooden homes with solar lighting and solar-powered water pumps in an effort to harness the elements to help – rather than destroy – residents’ lives.
“The government provides the timber, zinc for the roof and iron, while our group provides technicians and skilled labourers as a donation,” Ohn Myint, the company’s construction manager told AFP. In return, the villagers help build their new homes. “It’s like they are building their own house but combining our skills with their labour,” Ohn Myint said.
Ohn Myint hopes the homes will be ready in three months. “But we are facing delays in transporting material and getting the right labour,” he said. At the village jetty, hard wood and other building materials arrive by cargo ship and are carried off by residents. Not all the villagers are happy about their building work – they would rather be doing their old jobs, fishing the waters.
A village elder, in his 60s, told AFP: “Many villagers get tired from working so hard and we are all upset about the situation we’ve ended up in. “We cannot go back to work (as fishermen) as we are required to work for the housing project.” The fishermen are also stuck on dry land because their rods and boats were destroyed by the storm.
They are awaiting government donations of fishing equipment they hear are being given out in other villages along the delta. “We lost everything in our family and we have no fishing equipment left,” said Khin Min, 49, a village official. “We understand that farmers are the first priority because the planting season is limited, but we need fishing equipment very soon for our own survival,” he added. The people of Auk Pyon Wa still rely on food handouts, recently receiving a month’s rice from international charity Save the Children. They collect their water from nearby Thin Gan Gon village, as their own water pond is not clean enough to drink from. “Before, many donors came to our village but now we get less and less.
We receive mostly rice but we can’t eat rice alone in the long term. We want to eat other things as well, that’s why we want to work,” said the village elder. But while there may be no work for now, homes are on their way – allowing these traumatised communities to find some semblance of normality amid the chaos wreaked by Cyclone Nargis.