Burma Earthquake Update

Politics and natural disaster are dominating the headlines, compelling us to think critically about how to solve some of the most pressing political and economic issues of the globalized world.  Yet amidst the incredible reporting going on, the untold stories and struggles still exist.  Two weeks ago, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit vilages in Burma, Laos and Northern Thailand. The  disaster made  headlines, but the small quake is easily overshadowed by the other news . For international reporters it can be a challenge to get into Burma, and because of restrictions that the government imposes on aid organizations, it is difficult to understand the magnitude of the earthquake on the poorest country in Southeast Asia. Here we will keep you updated, as news breaks and more pictures from our brave colleagues and friends working for Burmese media organizations are released.  Please submit your articles and stories, and we will attempt to keep people posted on what is going on. Thanks to Jaz for her continued efforts in Burma relief, and submitting this post.
 

On the 24th March an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit Burma. The epicenter was 200 km north of Chiangmai, where I live. At that time I was sitting in a restaurant next to a Californian girl who had just flown in to work at a children’s home. Being experienced in earthquakes, she pointed out that the lights were swinging and suggested we might be having one. Seeing as I am completely unexperienced, I just assumed the sense of the earth shifting was due to the dizziness I had been feeling all week due to my fever. So I told her, “Nah, it’s just windy.”
Ironic considering the later revelations.
At first the  news only reported one death. Then a score more. Then personal eye-witness accounts started to trickle through suggesting that the real death toll was much higher than the Burmese government was acknowledging. This isn’t a surprise since a few of years ago there were over 130,000
deaths due to Cyclone Nargis and the government claimed there were only 79.
By day I’m a graphic designer for a Christian NGO, but I moonlight as part of a little disaster relief team. The Burmese government stopped all foreigners entering and tried to prevent images being taken, but some locals managed to smuggle photos and footage out. These ended up in my hands and when we saw the damage my team kicked into action. In my role as media and communications I began to collect accounts of the damage and try to collate a truer picture of what was really going on and keep the different local relief groups informed so we can co-ordinate better.
It’s complicated and exhausting to try to keep up with the reports coming in, work out what is the best course of action with limited resources and and even finding a map to locate the villages was tricky. On the side, I have been trying to produce media to inform the Western world which seems to have mainly overlooked this disaster. The Burmese government and world news reported only 75 dead but one girl said that in Tarley town alone there were 137 known dead two days after the earthquake. Out of Kya Ku Ni came one of the stories- the church fell on the the youth group during prayer meeting and 30 died, while 50 are in hospital.


Images of the church.
The unofficial reports lead to an overall picture emerging showing 300 known dead at the moment, neglected mountain communities not receiving help, tainted water causing diarrhea, collapsed homes leaving survivors trying to shelter under tarpaulins in the rain and the Burmese army confiscating relief supplies. 

Vehicles trying to bring relief supplies in are pulled over at an army checkpoint and then told that they must leave their supplies in the care of the army. As one local said, “You can see it clearly sitting there during the day, but then it disappears during the night and never reaches us.” Hearing this as a relief worker just makes me angry, but there’s really no time for that. We just need to find a way around it, and thankfully, there are ways.
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Confiscated relief stockpiled.
The UN has to work with the Burmese government and all their supplies are being sent through the army base in Tarley town. So far the army base has only handed out 10 kg of rice and 2 boxes of noodles to the main Tarley town area. This will feed the people in town for about 5 days, but none of this has even gone into the mountain villages which were closer to the epicenter. One reason may be that Tarley town has Burmese businesses (hence the concrete buildings that collapsed) where as the ethic Lahu, Shan and Akha tribes that live in bamboo huts in the villages have never been of much value to the government.
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Right now there are two tent camps set up in the mountainous area near the epicentre. They each have about 50 tents with 1-2 families per tent. All the mountain streams and wells seem to have been polluted when the earthquake hit and the water is now cloudy and has a bad odor. Only the wells near Tarley have been treated, but everywhere else drinking water is their most desperate need. We are sourcing water filters and have put out an appeal to the local Chiang Mai community, but there’s limited funds available since there was very little coverage of this in the news (for instance, I estimate that we need at least 50 water filters for the tent camps but we can only afford to make 20 so far).
Even now as I write this, people are still dying for lack of clean drinking water and sleeping outside on the ground for fear of more earthquakes. One local girl wrote this out today, ‘And we have news that in Myanmar they say that today April 4, 2011 will have earthquake at night 8:00 again. But we don’t know where? Everyone in Myanmar we need to sleep outside to night. So please pray for us and everyone was scare and worry. Please pray for us and for Myanmar.’

Currently, the major relief groups ham-strung by international diplomacy, it seems that it will be the local organisations and indigenous networks that can make a difference on the grass roots level to these affected communities.

To read more about what happened, I have been writing damage reports at:
http://thehavenproject.net/24-march-2011-earthquake/ and
http://thehavenproject.net/burma-earthquake-update/
You can donate at these links.

This is a link to video with real footage taken from the affected areas, sound has been removed to protect the camera person.
A google map tracking damage reports

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