Scots charity condemns slow progress in Burma since cyclone in 2008
Published Date: 10 May 2010
By Tristan Stewart-Robertson
A SCOTS businessman says Burma is still a decade away from "normality" because of the deadly cyclone two years ago.
Edinburgh-based Paul Strachan led a major charity drive to turn two cruise boats into floating hospitals after Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008.
Now, as he plans to set up a formal Scots charity to continue work in the region, the 47-year-old said prADVERTISEMENT
ogress to help Burma has been slow, and warned the country's military junta is a major obstacle.
In total, Mr Strachan's efforts have raised more than £835,000, with still some in the bank to keep aid efforts going.
But he said major work will be needed to tackle problems such as the poisoned water supply. Tens of thousands of new wells need to be dug around the delta region hardest hit, each costing a few thousand pounds.
After the cyclone struck Burma on 2 May, 2008, Mr Strachan loaned the Pandaw II and IV cruise boats from his river cruise business in southeast Asia to the charities Save The Children and Merlin, who turned the barges into floating hospitals getting aid to inaccessible parts of the Irrawaddy delta.
A 128ft boat was then converted into the Pandaw Clinic Barge, which treated 4,487 patients between August 2008 and March 2009. The vessel has only just restarted after being denied a licence for the past six months by the military junta.
Mr Strachan said: "It will take a decade to get things back to normality. There can be 20 to 30 orphan children in a single village being cared for by the community. It's a rice-growing area so people also had a living in farming or trading. There was a terrific loss of livestock, and a buffalo costs as much as a small car.
"People got back to farming quite quickly because they had to, and avoided a famine. The government is a major obstacle. They obstruct aid and non-Burmese nationals. The hospital ship was laid up for six months because it did not have the right licence.
"All the wells were poisoned by the ingress of salt water so you have to dig deeper. The Burmese are very resilient and used to not getting much support from government or much aid. They're very good at fixing things."
During the hot season last year, the floating clinic was used to deliver fresh water to villages. The holds were relined and painted to carry water.
Merlin decided to focus more on health education efforts last year and German charity Myanmar Foundation has now taken on the running of the clinic, supported by the charity efforts in Scotland.
Mr Strachan said they are now looking to set up a formal charity in Scotland to continue funding the hospital barge and other work in Burma.
He added: "All our efforts help, but one does worry it's just a drop in the ocean. This is a massive area."