Friday, May 09, 2008
It's Mothers' Day tomorrow
It's easy to get sentimental and soft about Mothers' Day which is tomorrow, but one story in today's Age reminds us of the shocking stories coming out of Burma after the cyclone of death, hunger, and ordinary people.
Born of tragedy, a baby clings to life
May 10, 2008
MA GAN survived cyclone Nargis. The storm tore the roof off the tiny brick house where the 22-year-old and her extended family live, 95 kilometres south-west of Rangoon. Two days later, she gave birth.
Now her baby girl is growing weaker by the day. Ma Gan is not producing breast milk, and almost a week after the storm blasted through, there is virtually no clean water in the town of Bogalay or the rest of the disaster zone.
There is no medical care and precious little food. A grandmother has taken charge of the infant and is trying to keep her alive by feeding her drops of water from a polluted canal.
"We have nothing. How do we go on?" lamented the family's patriarch, U Myint.
Burma's military regime said yesterday it was not ready to open the country's doors to foreign aid workers, rejecting international pressure to allow more experts into the isolated nation where disease and starvation stalk about 1.5 million cyclone survivors. The ruling generals said the country needed outside aid for those still alive but would deliver it themselves. A United Nations official said Burma's junta had seized all the food and equipment that the World Food Program had flown into the country for cyclone victims. He said the program had no choice but to suspend further aid shipments until the matter is resolved.
Speaking from Rangoon last night, World Vision chief Tim Costello said he was still no closer to negotiating the arrival of $3 million worth of emergency relief stranded in Dubai or visas for the 25 specialist workers needed to co-ordinate the aid response.
"We're feeling very frustrated," he said. "It's a real feeling of impotence, almost guilt that we know people are there but we can't get to them." He said international workers hoped they would be allowed entry into the country after today's referendum.
The generals' decision came as the UN warned another storm was headed in the direction of Burma. A UN spokesman said heavy rain was likely in the next week.
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was due to fly to Burma this weekend after British and American envoys urged him to ask the generals to accept Western aid agencies.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described the Burmese stance as appalling. "The obscenity of this is that the people who pay the price are the poor Burmese people," he said. Mr Rudd said Australia was seeking to exert influence through parties such as Singapore, China and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Burmese Government has said the storm killed at least 22,000 people, with 40,000 missing. US diplomats suggest the toll could reach 100,000.
At Ma Gan's tiny plot, family members and friends had erected corrugated metal sheds. The survivors wore the same look of exhausted acceptance.
The baby was born in a small, low-roofed shack. Ma Gan's mother and other women in the family helped with the delivery and were taking care of the infant. Ma Gan, traumatised, was not joining in. U Myint went into Bogalay to try to get rice or water, but supplies in the ravaged town were limited. "They sent us away," he said. "We have no food, no water. The paddy is no good."
Rice from a recent harvest, now rotten, would normally be fed to animals, but it has become their only food. The rice provides no nutrients. They have no choice but to eat it.
With CHRIS HAMMER, DEWI COOKE and agencies