Cy­clone-stricken vil­lages in Rakhine turn­ing into ghost towns

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - ZAW ZAW HTWE U Tun Aung Kyaw Myint Gar Tit vil­lage FE­BRU­ARY 2, 2018

za­wza­whtwe@mm­times.com

SEVEN years af­ter Cy­clone Giri bat­tered Pauk­taw town­ship in Rakhine State, the area has not re­cov­ered from the dev­as­ta­tion and peo­ple are try­ing to move to other places to start new lives.

Pauk­taw, a town in the Phay­one Kar ar­chi­pel­ago in the Bay of Ben­gal, has lost fish in its rivers and creeks, de­priv­ing fish­er­folk of their liveli­hoods.

Since 2012, vil­lagers in Pauk­taw and other is­lands in the Phay­one Kar ar­chi­pel­ago have been aban­don­ing their homes in search of a more friendly en­vi­ron­ment where they can en­gage in gain­ful em­ploy­ment, ac­cord­ing to vil­lage heads in cen­tral Phay­one Kar Is­land.

U Tun Aung Kyaw, 51, a fish­er­man and res­i­dent of Myint Gar Tit vil­lage on Pyay­one Kar Is­land, which is a part of Pauk­taw town­ship, is up­set that his two sons had to go work in Thai­land to help feed their fam­ily. His first son left for Thai­land three years ago, his sec­ond son fol­lowed a year later.

He is still tak­ing care of his wife and five other chil­dren and his in­come from fishing can hardly sus­tain their daily needs.

“Both my sons want to stay with us,” U Tun Aung Kyaw said. “But they have to live there be­cause we are fac­ing a cri­sis here.”

“They are not happy there. They want to come back home” he said, his voice crack­ing and tears welling in his eyes.

U Tun Aung Kyaw said he has gone fishing at sea as there are more fish there and he can earn an av­er­age K200,000 (US$150) per month, but the fishing sea­son at sea lasts only five months, so for seven months he is job­less.

“Dur­ing this pe­riod, I have no in­come,” he told The Myan­mar Times last week. “We sur­vive through the help of my sons. When we run out of money, we pawn some of our pos­ses­sions.”

“Ac­tu­ally, my sons planned to come back this year, but they have had to stay there one more year since we need money to hold with novice do­na­tions and to es­tab­lish our own busi­ness,” he said.

Myint Gar Tit vil­lage, at the edge of Phay­one Kar Is­land, is near­est to main­land Pauk­taw and Sit­twe town­ships. There are 183 house­holds and 800 peo­ple liv­ing in the vil­lage, and its main busi­ness is fishing in the rivers and creeks that meet the sea.

Peo­ple here who work in fishing also work as ca­sual labourers in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor and other busi­ness when they are out of jobs dur­ing the non fishing sea­son.

But the mi­gra­tion rate of the vil­lagers had been in­creas­ing be­cause of fewer jobs in the aftermath of Cy­clone Giri.

Most vil­lagers went to Thai­land, China and Malaysia to work and some mi­grate to Hpakant town­ship in Kachin State to look for jade at the jade mines, said U Ohm Shwe Maung, vil­lage head of Myint Gar Thit Vil­lage.

U Sein Hla Maw, head of other eight vil­lages on the Phay­one Kar Is­land, said the paddy farm­ing busi­nesses have run out of ca­sual labour as many peo­ple have left the is­land.

“Be­fore the cy­clone, we didn’t need to search for labourers. There were plenty of causal labourers around,” he said. “Now, we don’t have enough labour. We have to use ma­chine in our agri­cul­ture busi­ness. It is very ex­pen­sive to hire the ma­chines and en­gine driv­ers.”

U Sein Hla Maw, who tills about 40 acres of paddy fields, said farm­ers do not profit much dur­ing the har­vest sea­son be­cause of the high cost of rent­ing farm ma­chines.

Daw Saw Khin Aye, 40, a res­i­dent of Taung Chaung Vil­lage who owns about 12 acres of paddy fields, said her fam­ily might have to leave the vil­lage soon.

“Now, we lend our paddy fields to oth­ers. We couldn’t run our paddy agri­cul­ture busi­ness as we couldn’t find labourers. We will be leav­ing the vil­lage soon,” she said. “We don’t want to live here be­cause we are not okay here.”

She said that she and her three chil­dren will be moving to Hpakant town­ship in Kachin State where her hus­band works as jade trader.

Her hus­band left the vil­lage af­ter the fam­ily sold out the prawn hus­bandry pool. Now, her hus­band is search­ing a house to buy and live in Hpakant be­cause the jade trade busi­ness there is go­ing well.

U Sein Hla Maw said that 50 per­cent of vil­lagers in his vil­lages have mi­grated to other re­gions and abroad. There are many empty houses at his vil­lages left behnd by those who mi­grated.

Ma Hla Hla Yi, 34, from Lay Hnyin Thar Vil­lage in the deeper part of the Phay­one Kar Is­land, said she hopes to take her fam­ily to Kachin where her hus­band is staying.

“We make our liv­ing by catch­ing crabs,” she said. “But my hus­band went to Kachin last month to search the jade be­cause we do not have enough in­come.”

He couldn’t send back money till now. Now, I live here with my three chil­dren and sell fried snacks. I earn only be­tween K1000 and K2000 per day,” she added.

“Al­most all male vil­lagers who are over ages of 18 are out of away from vil­lage,” said U Maung Tin Myint, head of Lay Hnyin Thar Vil­lage. “Only women, chil­dren and the old peo­ple are here.”

The main busi­ness of the vil­lagers is search­ing for crabs in rivers and creeks, some own crab-farm­ing pools and some plant rice paddy and pep­pers.

“No govern­ment of­fi­cials reached here,” he said. “MPS come here only dur­ing elec­tion pe­riod. Af­ter that they have not vis­ited our vil­lage any­more.”

Worse, there are no on­go­ing govern­ment de­vel­op­ment projects in Phay­one Kar Is­land ex­cept for some small liveli­hood projects, the chief­tains of the vil­lages said.

They said that they badly need elec­tric­ity sup­ply and they also need a well-paved road that will link vil­lages in the is­land.

Aung Kyaw Htwe, state MP from Arakan Na­tional Party and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Pauk­taw town­ship, ad­mit­ted the state govern­ment have not pro­vided enough for the de­vel­op­ment of the is­land.

“We have not been pro­vided enough (fund by the na­tional govern­ment),” he said. “The bud­get we have re­ceive is very lit­tle.”

He also said that K142 bil­lion of Rakhine State govern­ment bud­get is only for the fund­ing of some in­fra­struc­ture projects in the state

Aung Kyaw Htwe said mi­gra­tion is not only hap­pen­ing to Pauk­taw town­ship but through­out the whole of Rakhine.

He said govern­ment and busi­ness­men must co­op­er­ate closely in or­der to de­velop in­dus­trial zones that will host fac­to­ries to keep the peo­ple from mi­grat­ing out of Rakhine.

The Tat Lan Pro­gramme, a joint project of hu­man­i­tar­ian groups – In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, Save the Chil­dren, Ox­fam, Bet­ter Life Or­ga­ni­za­tion and CARE, are cur­rently fund­ing a $38 mil­lion project called Liveli­hood and Food Se­cu­rity Trust Fund aimed at aug­ment­ing the in­come of peo­ple in Rakhine.

Some its projects are in the ar­eas of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment, gender equal­ity, in­fra­struc­ture, so­cial pro­tec­tion, nu­tri­tion, liveli­hood pro­grammes, and oth­ers.

The six-year project, which started in 2013, cov­ers the vil­lages in the town­ships of Min­pyar, Myay­pon, Pauk­taw and Kyauk­phy.

“Among the rea­sons why fam­i­lies leave is the grow­ing hard­ship they are fac­ing in their vil­lages,” Jen­nifer M. Mach­in­tyre, com­mu­ni­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor of Tat Lan. “They told us their lives are much bet­ter mi­grat­ing than staying in their vil­lages. Peo­ple are happy at the places they mi­grate.”

She said the most im­por­tant point is for the govern­ment to have com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ties, lis­ten to their con­cerns and give them as much sup­port as it can.

‘Both my sons want to stay with us. But they have to live [and work in Thai­land] be­cause we are fac­ing a cri­sis here. They are not happy there. They want to come back home.’

A woman dries fish and prawns in Myint Gar Tit vil­lage, Pauk­taw town­ship, Rakhine State. Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe

Res­i­dents of Lay Hnyin Thar vil­lage par­tic­i­pate in a sav­ings plan man­aged by lo­cal women. Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe

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