KIRF getting disaster relief supplies into Burma (Myanmar)
June 10, 2008
by Mark Kirwin
The tragedy in Burma from Cyclone Nargis that hit on May 2nd is far worse than what we have been lead to believe. During the last few days, I have interviewed Burmese refugees and seen footage of the tragedy that the locals took using their cell phones and other small cameras. Many Burmese have gathered this information at great personal risk with hopes that the outside world will know the true extent of the devastation, homelessness, sickness, loss of life caused by the cyclone and the Burmese military junta's intentional interference with international aid to the victims. While I was watching a video taken of the disaster area that showed the destruction and people begging for aid in the Irrawaddy RIver Delta on a computer, in the same room there was a TV broadcast from Burma that was created by military junta. It showed a fiction of images of nice tent cities with well feed people. Unfortunately, these fabricated TV images are not the truth of what is happening inside of the country as I learned from eye witnesses.
Through many confidential meetings with Thai and Burmese humanitarians in northern Thailand, we were able to get disaster relief supplies into Burma. The supplies will be distributed through a network of Buddhist monks. The supplies KIRF donations purchased include mosquito nets, tarps, blankets, antibiotics and other emergency medical aid. The many people who are making this effort happen are very brave because they are at serious risk of harm if the military junta finds out what they are doing. KIRF, through it contacts with these local humanitarians are using this unofficial aid network to get disaster relief into the country. Others have joined our effort and a new load of supplies is going across the same route n the next few days.
I wish I could tell you the names of the brave people who helped us get the supplies into their country but for their safety, I can not. Burma is a dangerous place right now. For instance, when we delivered our truck loads at the boarder crossing we were provided an armed guard by the unofficial aid network for protection.
Now that we have established an effective means to get the supplies to the disaster victims in Burma, KIRF intends to send more aid. KIRF will ensure that funds donated to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis goes to purchasing disaster relief that gets delivered into Burma. We will do this so that we can purchase more supplies for the cyclone victims, many of which are now dying from treatable infections, disease and starvation.
One of the major populations devastated by the cyclone in the Irrawaddy River delta and southern region of Burma, and who is being denied aid by the Myanmar military, is the Karen people. The Karen are one of several major ethnic groups in Burma with their own culture and language. For years, the Karen have been struggling to keep their traditional territory called the Karen State and their ancestral homesteads near the Thai border from being appropriated by the Burmese military junta through a systematic program of genocide that has included mass murder, rape, torture, forced labor, and the dispersal of land mines. The Karen State is rich in natural resources such as natural gas, timber and rice farming.
For more information about KIRF providing humanitarian aid to Karen refugees from Burma last year, please see our field report from June 17, 2007>
Photos (top to bottom): Homes crushed and flooded by Cyclone Nargis in Burma; KIRF's Cyclone Nargis relief supplies being ferried across the river into Burma (Myanmar); Brothers Mark and Stephen Kirwin with a Burmese monk disaster relief worker (whose face has been blurred to protect his identity). KIRF Collection.