Wind of Ayeyarwady River -Recovery in Myanmar after Cyclone-

Bogale Hospital staff and Ms. Yoshida (Center on right hand) ©IFRC

Ms. Chiyuki Yoshida in center on right hand, with staff members at Bogale Hospital. ©IFRC

Five months have passed since Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, causing unprecedented damage and casualties with more than 130,000 people dead or missing . The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have pursued their activities of recovery support for 100,000 affected households, such as delivery of relief supplies, temporary housing and livelihood aid, and safe water supply and sanitation/ health promotion. This issue features a report from Ms. Chiyuki Yoshida, a nurse of the Japanese Red Cross Society Wakayama Medical Center, who has been involved in the activities as an IFRC member, since July 2008.

The Ayeyarwady Division, the most devastated area, looks like a city on the water with the Ayeyarwady River running through it. Water- ways and rivers stretch over the area in a mesh pattern. Rivers cut across villages, so people use boats for their transportation. As the volume of water lowers in the dry season, sandbars come to the surface everywhere in rivers, and fens expand over villages. In some areas, mangroves and shrimps are cultivated. And Cyclone Nargis has caused massive damage to both fishing and agriculture in these areas.

A few days ago, I visited Bogale in the Ayeyarwady Division, carrying medical relief supplies. This included a set of medical goods supported by the Japanese Red Cross Society. It took eight hours to travel from Yangon to Bogale through rough roads by using a four-by-four vehicle, and then we proceeded further by boat after arrival in Bogale. To keep the balance of this small boat, we distributed the supplies evenly throughout the boat, which also accommodated 15 people. The dock was so muddy that my legs in boots gradually sank in the mud like a bottomless swamp.

The surface of the river, mangrove trees and scattered villages were seen from the boat. I heard conversations with people on boats coming and going. They said “Mingalaba” (Hello) to each other, which is the first phrase that I memorized after I came to Myanmar. It resonated on the surface of the river. As it was close to the sea, the boat was traveling into a humid sea breeze. Most of the houses that we saw from the boat were covered with blue or white plastic sheets, and children were bathing in water. People were not wearing shoes on the shore, because monasteries and temples are usually built near docks or at places commanding a fine view, and people are not allowed to enter there with their shoes on.

“As children are scared of the noise of the rain drumming onto the plastic sheets, saying that the Cyclone will come again, I am thinking about placing thatch for the ceiling”, said a mother who was knitting a grass-made mattress. Houses in this area are built with bamboos and grasses which protect against heat during the daytime. Therefore, it is uncomfortable inside the house, if the roof is covered with plastic sheets, and those sheets also create more noise and humidity. I felt it was urgent to build housing or simple frame houses where children could live in peace.

Soon after we arrived at Bogale, we went to the Bogale Hospital with medical supplies. The assistant director welcomed us and said, “We want to deliver the goods to healthcare facilities where midwives work for villagers, and please send our sincere gratitude to Japanese people.” This hospital has about 50 beds and can conduct simple microscopic exams, X-ray exams and minor surgery. “Recently we’re trying to save electricity due to a series of blackouts and expensive fuel for the power generator”, said the staff and patients with smiles. I felt like saying then, “hats off to you.”

On the following day, we accompanied the healthcare team led by an MRCS chapter conducting hygiene education for primary school children in the village. It took one hour to get there by small boat. As the dock was built within the village’s monastery, we purified our legs with our shoes and socks off before entering. “As the sun is strong,” a woman applied “Thanakaa” to my face which is made of grinded sandalwood with good aroma. The texture was moist and cool and I understood why this is so loved by local ladies.

The primary school was a 30-minute walk from the village’s monastery, where 50 children were studying. MRCS volunteers have been teaching continuously how to use mosquito nets, hygiene kits, how to wash hands with a distribution of relief supplies.

“I got mosquito nets, canned fish, plastic sheets and a water container from the MRCS”, a boy proudly showed his goods to me. When I advised an elderly woman to use the mosquito nets instead of just keeping them, she replied, “I really appreciate but am ashamed to use it.” I told her that unless the mosquito net is not hung up, it has no meaning and it will be just a net. So, I stressed that the net be used while sleeping, especially during the season when malaria is rampant. I hoped that people should be so careful not to get ill. Then finally I managed to persuade them, and they opened the bags of mosquito nets. In addition to hygiene education, we are planning on taking measures to cope with water shortage and installing latrines in preparation for the dry season.

“This village has no midwife so the periodical mobile healthcare services by the MRCS are most welcome. Thus, we would like to continue as much as we can.” I still remember this comment by a young female doctor of the MRCS who accompanied our survey. So big is every single power of volunteers and staff who continue to work with the spirit of “I want to do something I can do!” With their combined efforts and in collaboration with the MRCS, the IFRC will conduct field surveys in 13 townships in the Ayeyarawady Division, and map out mid and long-term plans such as healthcare, water sanitation projects, mental healthcare as well as support for livelihood and temporary houses.

The small Red Cross boat continues to go from village to village, greeted by a pleasant breeze from the Ayeyarwady River.