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Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 17:04 UK

Untold story of Burma's relief effort

By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Rangoon

People line up at a government-run camp for the visit of UN chief Ban Ki-moon on 22 May 2008
Despite some showcase camps, aid is still slow to arrive

In central Rangoon there is little evidence left of the destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis a month ago.

Fallen trees have been cleared, roads reopened. State television shows sparsely populated refugee camps and well-stocked shelves of medical supplies.

But the street side DVD stalls tell a different story. Amid the Thai and Burmese blockbusters there is a recent addition which has been selling very well.

It is amateur video shot within the stricken Irrawaddy Delta and smuggled past the soldiers guarding what is now a restricted area.

In addition to the images of bloated corpses and flattened homes there is footage which reveals the untold story of the relief effort - thousands of ordinary Burmese who have travelled there at risk of arrest to hand out food and water they have paid for themselves.

'Save our people'

One of them, a young man who heads a team of doctors, told me how they ventured far into the delta region under cover of darkness to reach the beleaguered victims.

Often, his team are the first people they have seen since the cyclone swept through their homes.

"What we are doing is to save our own Burmese people's lives," he said. "If we take much longer it means the number of people who die will increase."

A young girl dries clothes on the damaged roof of her home in Twantay on 29 May 2008
Some families say they have not yet received any aid
"When I got to the villages near the sea for the first time they were very surprised. They were looking at us. We were the first group who sent them aid."

"One woman I met lost her whole family. She was the only one to survive. She doesn't know what to do next."

He says however much they do, it is not enough.

Empty camps

The delta region may be barred to foreigners, but even villages on the outskirts of Rangoon have suffered.

At one we found a man building a new home after his old one was swept away by the cyclone.

People queue to receive food at a monastery south of Rangoon on 1 June 2008
Burmese people have been trying to help each other, residents say

On the night the seas came, he said, the water reached his neck. He held his baby above his head and swam for his life

His neighbours were not so lucky. Five members of the same family died.

In the month since then, he has received no aid but for a few cupfuls of rice donated by well-wishers.

Meanwhile state television shows Burma's military generals touring showcase, largely empty, camps and posing beside well-stocked shelves of medical supplies.

The lobbies of Rangoon's hotels still contain foreign disaster specialists waiting to access the region.

The aid agencies employ Burmese nationals in the areas they cannot reach, but they lack the expertise necessary for a disaster on this scale. They are using hundreds of boats to ferry the aid in, but they need thousands.

It is, said one aid agency spokesman, like filling a bathtub with an eyedropper.



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