LABUTTA TOWNSHIP, Irrawaddy Delta — Some 300 poor villagers in Irrawaddy Division’s Labutta Township who have lived at a resettlement site after their homes were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis almost exactly seven years ago say authorities are forcibly evicting them from the site.
Villagers interviewed at a settlement called 3 Mile, located near Labutta, one of the Delta’s major towns, said that on Wednesday the township general administration department issued a notice ordering the families to vacate the land “as soon as possible.”
“Squatting like this can lead to undesirable problems that may harm regional peace and stability and the rule of law,” the notice signed by Toe Toe Tun township administrator said. “Houses are not to be built without any permission on the land under government control, and legal actions shall be taken in line with existing laws [against those who build houses].”
One of the Nargis victims, Hsan Oo, told The Irrawaddy, “Kyauk Hmaw Village Administrator U Nay Linn and some police gave the notice on [Wednesday] evening. They also put up notices on our houses.”
The families said they would refuse the order as authorities had failed to offer them a suitable alternative site to live. “We won’t move and we have no place to move to,” said Khin Htay.
Ninety three families comprising some 300 people have lived in makeshift huts at the site after their homes and crops were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis on May 2, 2008.
The cyclone was Burma’s worst-ever natural disaster and hit the Delta—the country’s rice bowl and a densely populated, low-lying area—extremely hard: Some 138,000 people were killed in 10 townships when a storm surge flooded up to 40 kilometers inland.
The then-military government failed to provide a weather warning or an adequate emergency response. Some 800,000 people were left homeless and had their farming livelihoods destroyed.
The families at 3 Mile were among several thousand displaced people who were resettled by military authorities at 13 villages in Labutta Township in the wake of the cyclone. Authorities hired the land from local landowners and with the help of the Norwegian Refugee Council temporary camp sites were set up.
Most displaced returned to their home villages in the years after the cyclone, except for some 1,000 people from 407 households at 3 Mile, whose villages were so utterly destroyed that they had nowhere else to go. In recent years, 293 families have asked authorities to grant them the right to stay at the site and build homes there.
Labutta constituency lawmaker Zaw Win asked Irrawaddy Division parliament in August 2013 whether their request would be met and Irrawaddy Division Minister San Maung replied that the Nargis victims would be granted lands a 3 Mile.
However, authorities have since reneged on the promise after the original landowners demanded their land back, 3 Mile residents said, adding that instead they were offered 30×30-meter plots at a site further away from Labutta town.
“Now, land owners are asking us to move. So, we have no place to live. It has been over two years that we asked the government to grant us lands in
3-Mile, but they did not give it to us,” said Daw Hmay.
“The new place, which they call 5 Mile New Village, has no drinking water, no electricity and no school. It is also far from schools and Labutta. We can’t get a livelihood there. That’s why we refused to live there,” said Tin Tin Nyo, another resident.
“It is not convenient to live in the [new] village. Our 3-Mile is close to Labutta and schools. That’s why we ask [authorities] to grant us land at this place,” said Khin Htay.