Living under plastic sheets

The coconut palms groan in the wind as Saw reaches the village of Amat ka Lay. It is the 2. May 2008, around noon. The aid worker wants to check a boat dock in the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma (Myanmar). He marvels at passing ducks, which are usually quite flight-shy. Then "Nargis" rages. The cyclone sweeps across the coastal region at more than 190 kilometers per hour. 140.000 people die, more than 800.000 become homeless. One year after the catastrophe, reconstruction is only just beginning.

When the wind died down, the water revealed a picture of devastation. 450.000 houses destroyed, just as many badly damaged. Bodies lie everywhere, entire villages are wiped out. The survivors were lucky. Many clung to palm trees or bridge railings. Saw rescued himself to the upper floor of a rice camp, where the 34-year-old held out for 18 hours along with 100 other men, women and children. "We were a kind of Noah’s Ark," says the staff member of the German Adventist relief agency, ADRA, in retrospect.The military, which has ruled Burma since 1962, is late in allowing international aid into the country. The vote on a new interception in favor of the generals should not be disturbed. Then, finally, the emergency aid gets into full swing. Organizations bring basic foodstuffs essential for survival into the country. months later, reconstruction can begin.One year after the catastrophe, the results are sobering: "To date, a quarter of a million people are still without clean drinking water," says Peter Rottach of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe in Stuttgart, Germany. Only one percent of the destroyed buildings have been rebuilt. "Most people live in emergency shelters that they construct from donated plastic sheeting."The supply of food also remains difficult. Rice harvest was nearly 50 percent lower than average after the storm. "The soil is salinated, there is a lack of seeds," Rottach explains. In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 125 people have drowned.000 draft animals in the floods.For Moritz Wohlrab, spokesman for "Aktion Deutschland Hilft," one thing is certain: "Nargis caught people completely off guard." An important goal of reconstruction is therefore disaster preparedness. As a result, the aid organization World Vision, like ADRA one of ten members of the campaign, is working to ensure that there is at least one safe building in every locality.Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe also focuses on preparedness."To sit and wait for something worse to happen would be both inhumane and uneconomical," Rottach says. Every euro invested in prevention could save up to ten euros that would be needed in the event of a disaster. The Protestant relief organization is therefore supporting the construction of protective buildings and early warning systems, as well as the planting of mangrove forests and a decentralized energy supply.A study by the British organization Oxfam shows how important precautionary measures are. It has taken 6.500 climate-related natural disasters studied. The result: the average number of people affected has doubled to 243 million per year. The UN estimates that 100 million people a year will be affected by disasters in 2050.000 people will die as a result of natural events. Already, 97 percent of disaster victims come from poor countries in the South.According to the UN, Burma still needs one billion U.S. dollars for reconstruction over the next three years. "We hope that the military regime will continue to let us," Wohlrab says. Today, the organizations could work much more freely than immediately after the disaster. This assessment is shared by his colleague Rottach from the Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. Neither of them wants to say more so as not to jeopardize their work.Saw is also helping to rebuild the region: "I wanted to help those people who have lost everything as quickly as possible." He keeps his life jacket on at all times.

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