Displaced Burmese worry about their future in camps

Khin Mar Htwe, 30, a resident of "3 Mile Camp" in Labutta, gave birth to a healthy baby on Friday, providing a rare breath of life amid so much death. ( dpa )

With no doctors available the delivery was performed by a midwife.

Like many residents of the temporary camp, 4.8 kilometres (3 miles) outside of Labutta, a town in the Irrawaddy delta, Khin Mar Htwe is worried about her future and that of her newborn son, amid reports that the government has started forcing residents of temporary camps set up to accommodate victims of Cyclone Nargis to go back to their homes.

"I cannot go home," Khin Mar Htwe told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "The cyclone destroyed everything, our house and fields."

The cyclone also claimed the lives of her two daughters and mother.

Even in "3 Mile Camp," Khin Mar Htwe's existence hangs by a thread. "If not for donors we would be dead. Now with the arrival of a Japanese doctors perhaps our health can improve."

A 23-member Japan Medical Team arrived in Labutta, 240 kilometres west of Yangon, over the weekend, and set up a temporary clinic at 3 Mile Camp on Saturday.

The team, granted short-tem visas that will expire on June 10, have been restricted to working in the camp, on Labutta's outskirts.

Altogether some 12,000 cyclone victims are residing in four government temporary camps around Labutta, many of them in desperate need of medical attention.

The Japanese clinic at "3 Mile Camp" was swamped by patients complaining of respiratory problems, diarrhea and injuries sustained in the cyclone, which hit Myanmar's central coast on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 dead or missing.

One woman appeared at the clinic on Saturday complaining of a cobra bite.

"We had to send her on to a hospital because we haven't brought anti-venom serum," said doctor Kaname Kanai, leader of the Japanese medical team.

"With so many patients every day, I am worried that we will not have enough regular medicines to last until June 9, when our mission is over," he added.

Myanmar's junta has been widely criticized by the international community for limiting the number of foreign experts allowed in to the country, especially the Irrawaddy delta region, in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which left an estimated 2.4 million people in need of clean water, food, shelter and medicines.

While visa and travel restrictions have been eased since last Sunday, when the government co-hosted an aid pledging conference in Yangon with the United Nations and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ruling junta has shown a preference for allowing Asian relief experts in to the country.

Altogether 270 medical experts from ASEAN have been invited to the delta region along with teams from China, India and Japan.

These teams are welcomed by international aid agencies, some of whom have been less successful at getting their own experts in.

"The task is so big we are welcoming everyone," said Souheil Reache, country director for Medicines Sans Frontier, one of the few international aid agencies that has been providing relief for Cyclone Nargis victims from the beginning of the catastrophe.

"The ASEAN and other Asian medical teams tend to be restricted to the major townships, which is good because it allows us to concentrate more on the remoter areas," said Reache.

With only 12 international staff but 250 Burmese staff working in the vast delta area, MSF has for the past two weeks been pushing outside the main Irrawaddy towns such as Bogale, Pyenpon, Labutta and Heyngyi to remote enclaves only reachable by boat or foot.

"Every day we are finding another 1,500 people who have not received any aid since the cyclone," said Reache. Unknown thousands continue to be stranded in these remote enclaves of the delta without the means to reach big cities and access to emergency supplies a good four weeks after the cyclone

And yet Myanmar's military regime continues to claim that the relief and rescue phase of the catastrophe is over, and is now beginning to pressure thousands of displaced people to return to their places of origin to help with reconstruction.

Sources in Bogale, another centre for government temporary camps, said 4,500 people were already forced to return to their homes last week.

Although there have been no reported evictions yet from Labutta, a showcase for international visitors, there are worries that once the Asian medical teams pull out the camps will be closed.

"The more people there are moving around the more difficult it is to get to them," said John Sparrow, a spokesman for Red Cross Red Crescent. "And with the rainy season upon us, if people don't have a place to settle down soon with access to shelter and supplies, the likelihood of disease outbreaks and deaths becomes greater."

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