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After the attention, thoughts turn to Burma's homeless

More than 80,000 remain homeless after Cycline Giri struck two weeks ago – when all eyes were on the elections.

Image: Medecins sans Frontieres

AS AUNG SAN SUU KYI returns to political life after her weekend release from house arrest, thoughts in Burma are turning to the 81,000 people estimated to have been left homeless by Cyclone Giri which struck the country three weeks ago.

40,000 acres of agricultural land were destroyed in the weeks before the harvest, Medecins sans Frontieres reports, causing a major risk of widespread hunger coming into the summer season.

The bulk of the damage was incurred in the country’s western provinces; some villages were left totally flattened by the cyclone when it struck on October 22, with one village, Kyauk Nga Nwar, losing all 150 households. Aid agency Trócaire believes a full 400,000 people may have been affected by the disaster.

Giri marks the second time in three years that many areas within the country have been devastated by a cyclone.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 120,000 people – in a story that made international news because the Burmese government refused to allow foreign aid reach the affected population. This time, however, the disaster was overshadowed by the focus on the elections and whether Suu Kyi might be released in their aftermath.

Aid workers now fear that the lack of shelter and adequate medical care will increase the threat of malaria, which is most commonly prevalent during the northern hemisphere’s winter season.

Earlier, the British government pledged £3m (€3.55m) to aid the relief work in the region, most of which will be spent on suppling clean water.

One local English-language newspaper, the Irrawaddy, has suggested that relief funding was withheld from certain regional governments because representatives there refused to vote for the military regime in last week’s elections.

After the attention, thoughts turn to Burma's homeless
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Gavan Reilly

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