By KYI WAI / KUNCHANGONE / RANGOON DIVISION
One year after Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta, villagers in the region watch the skies daily for signs of another killer storm. Weather forecasts on the radio command a big following.
When the government's department of meteorology and hydrology warned earlier this month of the approach across the Bay of Bengal of another storm, Cyclone Bijli, panic broke out.
The abbot of one village, Yae Tain, in Kaw Hmu Township, tried to restore calm by telling local people by megaphone that they had nothing to fear. “People were packing up to leave for Rangoon,” said one villager. “Everybody was afraid.”
Daw Thuza, 62, has every reason to be nervous whenever bad weather threatens—she lost her son and daughter-in-law when Cyclone Nargis hit their village. Her fisherman son and his wife both drowned.
Their small son saved his grandmother by waking her as the storm struck. She calls him to her side whenever bad weather now looms, and together they pack emergency supplies in a bin-bag. Into the bag go supplies they received after Cyclone Nargis—including a UNICEF backpack and a plastic sheet marked "assisted by donors from Thein-Gyi market."
One seven-year-old, orphaned by the cyclone, was so traumatized that he hides in a box whenever bad weather now occurs.
When Cyclone Nargis struck, the boy’s grandfather told him to seek shelter in a box. The grandfather died but the little boy survived.
“Whenever he now hears a storm is expected, he gets into his box,” said the boy’s aunt. “He even sleeps there.”
In Taw Palae ward, where virtually every household suffered a cyclone death, one villager said: “My wife is so scared still she listens to the weather forecasts all the time.”
Taw Palae is a fishing community and one third of its residents are thought to have died in the cyclone.
In many villages, families have been advised to send older people and children to stay with relatives in Rangoon and other cities away from the Irrawaddy delta seaboard. One 28-year-old woman from Chaung Gyi village, in Labutta’s Pyin Salu sub-Township, said she had moved to Rangoon after hearing that six severe storms were expected in the coming monsoon.
One Cyclone Nargis survivor, Kyaw Ko Ko, who has been employed in post-cyclone reconstruction projects, said: “People can’t be blamed for being so nervous. They’ve gone through terrible experiences.”
Some non-governmental organizations and groups have been giving post-cyclone trauma care and counseling but the work load is overwhelming and the resources are limited.
“Our ability to help is very limited,” said a volunteer with the Nyein Foundation. "We help people as best we can, despite the difficulties.”
A physician working with a mobile clinic said many cyclone survivors were still in material need, living in temporary shelters with insufficient food and clothing.
“Much is still urgently needed,” he said. “Shelters, food and clothing. As long as we can't provide them, these people can’t live normal lives.”