Cyclone Nargis Inflicts Pain One Year Later

A Nu Mya looks out from her front door, reflecting on life one year after Cyclone Nargis killed her husband.
A Nu Mya looks out from her front door, reflecting on life one year after Cyclone Nargis killed her husband.

Every home along the main street of Myanmar‘s Aima fishing village has something in common.

It goes beyond the woven bamboo walls, metal roofs and identical 270 square foot floor plans.

You might see it in the eyes of a Burmese boy who is barely tall enough to peer out of his front window.

Or maybe you can sense it from the young mother crouched in her doorframe, hands on chin, looking out.

One year ago, 119 of the 940 people who lived in Aima lost their lives in Cyclone Nargis, often the husbands and fathers who were out for the day catching crabs or fishing.

The deaths here are a small part of the 140,000+ killed when Nargis ripped across the Ayeyarwady delta on May 2, 2008, an unforgiving wall of wind and water that leveled every structure that wasn’t steel reinforced concrete.

Among those who lost loved ones is A Nu Mya, a 30-year-old woman with four children.

Her husband was out catching crabs to sell in the marketplace when the storm hit.

He never came home.

A Nu Mya has known her husband since she was 15 years old.

The soft-spoken woman has a strong faith, though, and believes that it was simply an act of nature.

A Nu Mya told me, “God will help me rebuild my life.”

When World Concern began its humanitarian recovery work in Ai-ma and in other villages across the low, muddy plains of the delta, our work included distributing emergency supplies of food and water – as well as the formidable and grim task of finding and burying victims.

So many died, though, it’s still not unusual to discover human bones on the shoreline.

Many thousands of people will never be found.

Now in the next phase of humanitarian disaster response, World Concern has done amazing work, from building homes, water and sanitation systems, to distributing kitchen and bedding supplies.

World Concern is working with Habitat for Humanity to build the innovative homes, which use coconut wood frames and woven bamboo floors.

We’ve even replaced fishing boats and worked on schools.

Our aid has reached far into the community.

Much of it is to promote sustainable livelihoods, so that people there will be able to support themselves once we leave.

In many villages we’ve even worked with locals to built tall mounds of raised Earth, a place to go to escape rising flood waters of the next cyclone.

Walking the streets of the village, pain remains fresh.

I spoke with two fishermen and a woman. Interviewed separately, all told me that it seems like the storm just happened. It is often the first thought they have every morning.

I am proud of the way World Concern has helped thousands of people here rebuild their lives.

We’ve listened to their stories and are helping them create better lives.

But the hearts of these villagers remain fragile.

Say a prayer for the delta. It’s been a year, and people are still reeling.

Give to Cyclone Nargis disaster response.

Cyclone Nargis killed one out of 10 people in Aima village in Myanmar. World Concern humanitarians and Habitat for Humanity rebuilt 110 homes.

A Nu Mya holds her youngest son, age 2, inside their Myanmar home.
A Nu Mya holds her youngest son, age 2, inside their Myanmar home.

Humanitarian Aid in Myanmar

Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.
Destruction after Cyclone Nagris, Myanmar. A blur has been added to this photo.

Just imagine what’s left over from a major storm along the coast. Debris clogging a bay under a blue sky, floating and rolling with the waves and the tide. Branches, tarps, trash. Then imagine taking a closer look – and realizing that among the debris are bodies, bobbing and haphazardly mixed up in the mess. Bloated. Filthy. Sons, daughters, friends and wives. Dozens of humans, maybe even a hundred.

I saw a photo today the scene I just described. I may never forget it.

One of World Concern’s humanitarian relief workers in Southeast Asia took the photo several months ago. The location: Myanmar. You may remember a cyclone hit there a few months ago. It’s always difficult to grasp large numbers, but 138,000 people died in the storm, according to official figures. That’s the population of Syracuse, New York.

World Concern was working in Myanmar when the storm hit. We were helping people build simple livelihoods in the incredibly poor country. We were showing people techniques to run fish farms and helping them secure clean water supplies and education for their children. These kinds of projects bring people just off of the brink – and hopefully lay the groundwork for healthier, sustainable lives.

When the storm hit, that all changed.

World Concern Myanmar quickly switched from development mode into full-time humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Because we were one of a select few relief agencies permitted to be in the country, working there since 1995, we were in an excellent position to help. Nearly all of the 200 staff members at World Concern Myanmar are from the country. Undoubtedly, they all suffered personal loss because of Cyclone Nargris. Still, they continued to help with the relief efforts.

One of the most significant ways World Concern helped in Myanmar was to retrieve bodies. A tough responsibility. Not only did we want to respect the dead, it truly became a health hazard. I cannot imagine how emotionally traumatizing this work must have been for our staff.

Since the cyclone, people in Myanmar are rebuilding their lives, as best they can. We are helping them in a variety of ways, including the renewal of clean water supplies, reconstruction of homes and by offering them resources to get back to work.

I cannot forget the photo of the debris-clogged bay. I am just stunned by the amount of destruction and human loss people there have faced. All of this reminds me that even with economic turmoil here in America, we cannot possibly look away from disasters like this in good conscience.