|UNICEF workers, along with a member of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and several other health workers, travel by boat to a remote village in Kawhmu Township in the south-western Irrawaddy Division.|
KOE TAUNG, Myanmar, 15 May 2008 – UNICEF Myanmar staff members recently travelled by boat along with two health workers from the Kawhmu Township Health Department to offer hope to a remote village in cyclone-affected south-western Myanmar.
The boat moved cautiously through areas where no authorities had yet gone, to deliver water-purifying treatments and assess damage. Arriving at Koe Taung village in Yangon Division, UNICEF discovered that only 10 of the original 439 houses remained undamaged.
The remains of huts and livestock littered the flooded fields, but signs of resilience popped up here and there where families were fixing makeshift homes.
All around, paddy rice was drying on tarpaulin sheets. The flooding seawater ruined seedling stocks for the next crop and villagers have expressed alarm about the likely low yield next year.
Education a priority
There was good news in Koe Taung, however – no deaths. The worst case the team heard was that a woman's leg had been severely injured when a tree fell on her.
The bad news for the village was the demolition of the primary school, leaving 338 students without a classroom when school starts next month. The village chief, U Khin Nyo, has made children’s education a priority among the area's immediate needs. “We would like to rebuild the school before the new school year,” he said.
Teachers and village elders said they will need outside help building a new structure to accommodate all the students. “We want to rebuild our school as soon as possible,” said one student.
The villagers have rebuilt their toilets higher up because they know the dangers of digging holes into the wet ground and how it might contaminate their water.
There are 10 ponds in the village, which previously provided their drinking-water supply, but all are now unsafe. The villagers must rely on rainwater for drinking and use the ponds for washing only.
UNICEF distributed bleaching powder and showed residents how to treat the pond water to make it potable. Still, there are great risks of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases.
In need of shelter
With only a few boats having survived the storm, it will take some time to get crucial construction materials to the village.
“For now, the most important thing is shelter,” one villager said. More heavy rains are coming soon with the start of the wet season. “Once there is shelter, we need food to eat.”
Despite the loss of homes, no one has left the village. But now they must deal with their precarious relationship with water, here in the delta so close to the perils and produce of the sea.
Residents of Koe Taung need rain for the safest drinking water, but they also need sun to dry their primary food supply. Caught in this predicament with their homes still barely protected from more oncoming storms, they will continue to work to survive – and to have hope for the future.
Crisis in Myanmar
A month after deadly cyclone, classes resume
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits
UN Secretary-General appeals for further cyclone aid
UNICEF focuses on restoring normalcy for young survivors
UNICEF safe-water supplies arrive in Myanmar