Moemaka: Cyclone Giri hit Rakhine coastline, three months ago. Please explain the destruction and the situation of the affected areas.
Ko Kyaw Win: Yes, on October 22-23 in 2010, almost 100 people were killed, and more than hundred thousand houses and buildings were flattened by the Category Four Cyclone Giri, hitting at the wind speeds of 130-150 mph. Meipon, Pauktaw, Minpyar, and Kyauk Phu townships were the hardest hit areas on the coast. In some places, the whole villages were wiped out in the storm. Cyclone Giri caused over 300,000 people to become homeless, and nearly two hundred thousands acres (about 100,000 hectares) of paddy fields were severely damaged by it.
Being the almost harvest when the storm hit, the destruction of rice paddy had a much bigger impact, having no time to reap or even rice to eat. Many dams burst as well. The consequences are that agricultural land was inundated by salty sea water. It will be very difficult to grow crops in these fields in coming years.
The worst thing is that lakes for drinking water were destroyed by sea water. To get clean water becomes most concern. The lack of drinking water will certainly cause great serious bad effects to the public.
The next thing to worry for is the education of the children in these areas. In the aftermath of the storm, schools were completely destroyed and the future of those children is uncertain. On the whole, the situation of Rakhine coast, an undeveloped region, is already in a bad state of rebuilding. We think that it will take a long time to bring local people back to normal like before.
MoeMaKa: Ko Zaw Zaw Htun, would you tell us about the main economy of these regions, the scale of damage inflicted by Cyclone Giri, and needs for rehabilitation?
Ko Zaw Zaw Htun: Agriculture and fisheries are the major business industries of the Rakhine coast. 75% – 90% percent of those sections were destroyed by the Giri storm. It is not possible for farmers to grow anything in fields that were inundated by sea water, for the following year. It will take up to several years to mend the fertility of the soil. And then, almost all the fishing boats, trawlers, and fishing tools were swept away by the storm. Therefore, fishery workers cannot do anything without their boats and tools, for the time being. The aid groups can, as a short term plan, manage to provide shelter and food temporarily although it is over 3 months after the disaster. A large amount of relief aids is still needed. Even the big organization like the United Nations was currently able to contribute just $20 millions, far short of the $50 millions they previously promised.
MoeMaka: It is said that Burmese families from abroad did not know well about Giri storm. What do you think of that? Do you think it is the weakness of media in informing?
Ko Zaw Zaw Htun: It’s not true. I think that these families did know that Cyclone Giri struck Rakhine coast, what they still need to realize is the extent of damage and what types of aid are urgently needed in these regions. Perhaps, they did not think of it seriously because casualties are lower in comparison with that of Nargis Cyclone. The category and degree of destruction inflicted by Giri are, in fact, not much different from Nargis except for the number of deaths.
We think that it will be more accurate to tell that it was difficult for the media to reach these regions, which have poor transportation, than to say that it was a media weak point. Despite having contact with local people, even our association is extremely behind in receiving news.
MoeMaKa: What kinds of relief aid are being contributed to the local families of the storm affected areas currently?
Ko Kyaw Win: Burmese nationals at home, Burmese families from abroad, non-governmental organizations, the USA, Japan, Australia, the EU nations, and the United Nations are currently providing food, temporary shelters and medical supplies. However, just as we said, a large quantities of relief aids is still required and the contributions received are far short of actual needed amount for storm victims (even to reach the half of it)
MoeMaKa: So, what kinds of relief supplies are, at present, needed seriously in the regions devastated by Giri storm?
Ko Kyaw Win: It’s drinking water. We also need to mend the lakes and wells inundated by salty sea water, and to dig new wells for drinking water, if necessary. The next thing is schools for children. As the examinations are being set to start during next month, those schools need rebuilding immediately.
MoeMaKa: What activities are you carrying out to raise relief funds for the storm devastated areas?
Ko Zaw Zaw Htun: World Arakanese Organization (in USA) alone has already donated about $30,000 for Giri cyclone affected areas till January of 2011, and is still contributing. Previously, WAO members have made donations on their own. We, however, have to receive help and supports from friends and donors within our reach, because the degree of damage, inflicted by 2011 Giri storm and Rakhine flood, was so immense. Well-wishers and people who want to donate can make contributions to these areas via WAO (www.worldarakan.org) and Citizen of Burma Association. Coming February 20, we are planning to launch a fund raising of New York Burmese residents in collaboration with CoBA (New York Chapter) in New York City.
MoeMaKa: Coincidentally, could you please explain what the World Arakanese Organization (WOA) is?
Ko Zaw Zaw Htun: Yes, the World Arakanese Organization (WAO) is a Rakhine association to do social work, in particular. It is a social organization which intends to help education, health and social welfare of Rakhine people inside Burma by collective efforts of Rakhine nations residing in Europe, Asia, and America, and to present and maintain our tradition, literature and culture on the other hand.
The organization has been founded since 2055 and is based in New York City in the USA. We collaborate with trustworthy social groups and NGOs when a natural disaster breaks out, like Giri. Although it is a Rakhine organization, we usually help and contribute to any affected areas in Burma. We had been, for example, able to aid Irrawaddy delta in Cyclone Nargis, and even to provide considerable assistance for other Burmese nationals migrating to Thailand and when they were in trouble. WAO is helping affected areas of the Giri storm, not because those regions are in Rakhine, but because the association is always ready to lend a hand, as much as it can, to any parts of Burma facing natural disasters.
Now, the devastated regions are in Rakhine state. This is why; in addition to our ordinary efforts, we, the Arakanese Organization (WAO) have to regard this duty of helping Rakhine nationals as a historically important task.
MoeMaKa: What else would you like to add?
Ko Zaw Zaw Htun: On behalf of WAO and the entire Rakhine nationals, I would like to thank friends and organizations that unanimously helped in raising funds for victims of Giri storm, together with CoBA (New York chapter), which will bear to organize a fund raiser in New York, and also Ko Myo Aung (Burmese Classic) and Ko Zaw (Zaw Photo NYC).
Ko Kyaw Win: I would like to say in advance that I wish to give sincere thanks to donors for food stalls and local residents of New York, who all will participate in the forthcoming event, as well as DJ Ko Win Aye, and Alice, from Boston Myanmar Group (BMG), for providing entertainments, with love.