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Humanitarian groups say storm aid still not reaching parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine state

More than two weeks after Cyclone Mocha damaged much of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, many people still haven’t received aid, and humanitarian groups are asking the military junta to relax restrictions on road transport so that food and supplies can reach affected areas.

Junta soldiers have set up security gates along the Yangon-Sittwe highway to block traffic between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Donor organizations and humanitarian groups have been sending supplies to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, said Khaing Kaung San, secretary of the Sittwe-based Wan Lark Foundation.

“It needs to be open 24 hours a day,” Khaing Kaung San told Radio Free Asia. “If the transport has to pause for a night due to the military’s restriction of traffic, the relief supplies cannot reach the affected areas in time.”

In northern Rakhine, more than 90 percent of houses and buildings were damaged by the May 14 storm. A resident of Rathedaung township who refused to be named told RFA that his village hasn’t received any assistance and villagers have been living under tarpaulin sheets.

“I can’t describe how much we have lost. We don’t even have a place to stay in our village,” the resident said. “We have to stay in the rain even at night. We have to stay under a tarpaulin sheet while it’s raining. But some people here don’t even have the tarpaulins.”

Several Rakhine humanitarian organizations issued a joint statement on Monday urging junta authorities to speed up relief efforts and not to restrict the work of civil society groups.

Even though the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations have sent aid, there are still many areas in Rakhine that haven’t received any help, the organizations said.

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The military council has been making daily announcements through state media about aid shipments to Rakhine. Junta spokesman Hla Thein didn’t answer on Tuesday when RFA called to get a response to the Rakhine civil society statement.

‘I can’t keep up’

Because construction materials such as tin roof sheets and nails have been hard to find, only about 10 percent of homes damaged by the storm have been repaired, said Soe Lwin, an official of the Rakhine-based Lin Yaung Chi aid association.

“Electric cables and poles are still lying around there. Rescue groups have not been able to cover all areas,” he said. “Some houses have collapsed. Some had their roofs damaged.”

Additionally, prices for construction materials have skyrocketed, said Ali, a Buthidaung township resident whose real name isn’t being disclosed for security reasons. He said he has been unable to repair his house before the impending start of the rainy season.

“I can’t keep up with these new prices,” he said. “I don’t have the money. I am facing a really difficult situation. Some families split to stay in other houses. But some just have to stay out in the open as they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Lin Myat of Pauktaw township told RFA that communication and electricity were still not back to normal service.

“Even if the relief supplies cannot reach us, it would be good if we can buy them at regular prices,” he said. “But the shortage of electricity is the major problem here.

“If the authorities cannot supply electricity like before, it would be good if we can get it by neighborhood,” he said. “That way, we will be able to pump water and recharge our electrical products.”

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