Cyclone Nargis – three months on; Myanmar asking farmers to repay cyclone aid
Monday, August 04, 2008
Myanmar asking farmers to repay cyclone aid
* Farmers doubt ability to pay back ‘loaned’ aid
BOGALAY: Myanmar’s military regime is giving desperately needed aid to cyclone survivors on credit, requiring them to pay back to the government any assistance offered, officials said.
The secretive military last week officially allowed local journalists to visit the disaster zone for the first time since Cyclone Nargis slammed into the country on May 2. During the tour, local officials laid out their system for delivering aid to farmers in the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, where entire villages were washed away by the storm that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing.
The officials insisted that government had allowed aid for farmers to plant their fields and for fishermen to return to their boats, but insisted that the cyclone victims would have to reimburse the regime for the aid received. “If everything is free of charge, its value is very low. If something must be paid back, then they try their best to do it. This is the system,” one senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The government will distribute everything for them through a payback system. Otherwise, controlling the aid will be very difficult,” he said. Farmers have no choice but to accept the loans, but say they don’t know how they will ever repay them. “We have received power tillers and diesel on credit from the government. Even then, we still need more help to get bank loans so that we will have cash to hire field hands,” said Kyi Win, 57, a farm owner in Sat San village outside Bogalay.
But local officials insisted that farmers were ready to start surviving on their own. “The World Food Programme is delivering rice for villagers. Even if they stop delivering rice, villagers can feed themselves with their own income,” said Zaw Myo Nyunt, a local official in Sat San. The official assessment differs markedly with opinions expressed away from the military’s ears, as well as with assessments by UN officials, who have warned that many farmers were not able to plant their crops this year.
Over the last two weeks, many farmers in the delta told AFP that as much as one-third of the region’s cropland could lie idle – simply because so many farmers died that no one is left to tend the fields. Others who have received aid and tried to plant their fields say that as much as half the donated rice plants did not sprout, while draught cattle brought in from mountainous parts of Myanmar have not adapted to the delta’s marshy lowlands.
“If the UN cannot deliver rice and stops their assistance to us, we will be in trouble. We have no income now as our employers are finding it difficult to start their farming,” said Moe Wah, a 24-year-old farm worker. “I have no job now and am relying on rice aid from the WFP. All of us need jobs urgently to resume our lives. We lost everything in the cyclone,” she said. afp
Cyclone Nargis – three months on
This weekend marks three months since Cyclone Nargis devastated the Delta region of Myanmar/ Burma. The cyclone obliterated entire towns and villages, affecting 2.4 million people and leaving 130,000 people dead or missing.
While the world begins to forget the tragedy of Cyclone Nargis, CARE is committed to doing everything it can for the people who survived the storm. Three months on, the long and enormous task of reconstruction has just begun and communities will continue to need the most basic assistance such as food, for months to come.
‘The scale of the impact of the cyclone in Myanmar is comparable to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004,’ says CARE Australia CEO Dr Julia Newton-Howes, who returned this week from Myanmar’s Ayeraywady Delta.
‘While visiting the Delta we heard some desperately sad and traumatic stories from survivors. We visited areas where 20,000 people out of a population of 50,000 had lost their lives.’
The floods inundated over 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, killing up to 50 per cent of draught animals. Seventy per cent of the health facilities and up to 60 per cent of public schools in the affected areas were destroyed or significantly damaged.
Since the Cyclone struck, CARE has reached over 225,000 survivors who were severely affected by the storm. Throughout 185 villages CARE has provided more than 925 metric tonnes of rice, 4000 yards of plastic sheeting, 20 metric tones of rice paddy seed and 9000 water containers.
CARE’s initial work centred on immediate and essential aid to the people who were most affected, however the long-term relief and recovery of these communities continues as CARE provides food security support, health programs, clean water supplies, sanitation, emergency shelter and household recovery.
CARE estimates it will take at 2-3 years to re-establish the people’s livelihoods.
To learn more about CARE and its response to Cyclone Nargis, or to donate, visit http://www.careaustralia.org.au
M: 0419 567 777 P: (03) 9421 5572
Three months after Burma cyclone survivors still in need, says Christian Aid
Posted: Monday, August 4, 2008, 15:25 (BST)
Three months after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma some survivors have still received little aid.
Christian Aid, through its local partners, has been able to help 200,000 people with food, shelter, medicine and clean water.
However much more needs to be done and Christian Aid partners are still finding people who need urgent assistance.
One partner received a request in July for emergency food support for more than 50,000 people in 59 villages which are inland and inaccessible by boat. Very little help had reached them until then.
Rebuilding homes and getting farmers back to work are the urgent priorities for Christian Aid partners working in cyclone-hit areas of Burma.
Christian Aid is providing shelter materials for 180,000 people, trauma counselling for more than 150,000 people, water storage containers and purifying chemicals for around 100,000 people and medical and first aid treatment for 50,000 people
One partner specialising in disability is also providing shelter and mobility aids for up to 3,000 disabled adults and children. Another partner is building or repairing 49 childcare centres which were damaged in the storm which struck on May 2.
“There is a lot of good work going on and aid continues to get through to cyclone-hit areas especially from local organisations who are managing to help hundreds of thousands of people in extremely challenging circumstances,” said Ray Hasan, Christian Aid’s Burma expert.
“But it is now three months since the cyclone hit and it is widely accepted that many people have yet to receive any significant support. The responsibility for this lies with the regime and the hurdles that it continues to place in front of aid agencies. The regime must get fully behind the humanitarian aid effort and remove all barriers for agencies working on the ground.”
Many of the 2.5 million people affected by the cyclone are dependent on aid because their source of income has been destroyed. Others are having to take out loans in order to rebuild their homes. One man, Saw Han, told Christian Aid that he had taken out a loan of 200,000 kyat (about £180) for food and building materials.
As a condition for getting the loan Saw Han has to work for the lender until it is paid back. He gets no salary, just one meal a day. If he does not repay the debt in one year he will have to continue to work with the lender for the following year.
A Christian Aid partner is now working in his village and his family received a relief parcel which included blankets, a mosquito net and cooking containers.
“We were not in a position to buy the things we needed. Now we have containers to cook in and my children can sleep well,” he said.
Bogalay authorities demand construction tax
Aug 4, 2008 (DVB)
Residents of Irrawaddy’s cyclone-devastated Bogalay township have complained that local authorities have been pressuring them to pay a construction tax for repair work on their houses.
A Bogalay resident said municipal officials had told locals to apply for construction permits to repair damage caused by the cyclone and charged them between 100,000 and 200,000 kyat depending on the size of the house.
“Whenever they see a pile of bricks and sand in front of someone’s house, they think they can make some money,” she said.
“Our houses were damaged by the cyclone and they should not charge us for repairing them.” The resident said those who paid the tax were not given receipts by the officials.
Reporting by Naw Say Phaw
Burma Food Shortages “Significant”
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Burmese women transplant rice in Dalla, about 20 kms south of Rangoon on early July. FAO reported that upwards of 75 percent of farmers in the cyclone-hit area lacked sufficient seeds. (Photo;AFP)
IRRAWADDY DELTA — Three months after Cyclone Nargis hit southern Burma, hundreds of thousands of people are still not back on their feet.
“The situation in Myanmar [Burma] remains dire,” Chris Kaye, World Food Programme (WFP) country director, said. “The vast majority of families simply don’t have enough to eat.”
According to the recent Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA), 42 percent of all food stocks were destroyed and 55 percent of families only had stocks for one day or less.
Moreover, 924,000 people will need food assistance until the November harvest this year, while around 300,000 will need relief until April 2009.
In June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that about 200,000 hectares, or 16 percent, of the delta’s total 1.36 million hectares of agricultural land had been severely damaged in the cyclone and would “not be available for planting this season”.
Despite recent efforts to assist local farmers replant their next paddy crops by end-July, many failed. More than 12 weeks after the cyclone hit, leaving 140,000 people dead or missing, many farmers continue to lack the necessary tools or machinery to till the soil after the loss of thousands of plough animals.
In mid-July, just as the planting season was coming to a close, the FAO reported that upwards of 75 percent of farmers in the area lacked sufficient seeds.
The government claims 80,000 hectares of paddy fields were not planted in time, while others estimate that 25 percent of farmers were not able to plant at all.
But even for those who were able to plant, questions remain as to the quality of seeds, as well as their access to fertilizers, casting doubt on the likelihood of a successful harvest.
One farmer from Bogalay, at the southern tip of the delta, told IRIN he was sure his paddy crop would fail or yield badly, but hoped, with help from international donors, that his family of six would not starve.
Fishermen still lack nets
According to the FAO, almost 18,000 fishermen lost their lives in the cyclone, with another 10,000 still missing. More than 21,000 hectares of aquaculture ponds were destroyed and more than 2,000 larger mechanized fishing boats lost.
Moreover, tens of thousands of non-mechanized boats, accounting for the livelihoods of thousands of families in the affected area, are believed to have been lost.
Since small-scale fishing is the mainstay activity for so many cyclone survivors—providing the main source of diet and household income—many storm-affected families have found it virtually impossible to continue.
The government plans to sell 9,000 boats by installment, of which 3,000 have so far been completed.
With 89 percent of PONJA respondents describing food as their highest priority expenditure, many now find themselves having to make particularly difficult decisions.
“I always wanted them to be educated,” one 47-year-old woman from Pyapon at the southeast part of the delta, one of the worst-hit areas, told IRIN about her three children. “But now I’m thinking of sending them out to work to help out instead.”
Food assistance from donors and the government notwithstanding, many survivors complain they simply cannot get by on what they receive and are concerned about where their next meal will come from.
Others still find themselves forced to borrow money from local money lenders, increasingly placing them in debt from which they may never recover.
The Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) is a news service that forms part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But this report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.
Survivors of Burma‘s Cyclone Say They Need Aid
Irrawaddy Delta, Burma
05 August 2008
Three months ago, Cyclone Nargis swept through Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta, leaving more than 144,000 people dead or missing. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. For weeks, the country’s reclusive military government blocked international efforts to deliver aid to survivors. Now the generals say the need for relief is over. But during a recent visit to the delta by VOA, many people said they still are waiting for help. They say aid would sustain them for months before they can harvest new crops or find jobs. Heda Bayron has this report prepared by Pros Laput.
|Cyclone-affected children lined up in the rain waiting for food (file photo)|
The road into the Irrawaddy Delta is heavily guarded by Burma’s military.
But in some areas, people from outlying villages sit on the side of the road waiting for donations from neighboring townships.
These volunteers from Bagan township collect supplies and carry them into the affected areas.
At this point, they have been on the road for more than 10 hours. But their journey is not over; they must haul donations into boats to reach villages in the interior.
The villages worst affected are beyond the main roads. Most are accessible only by boat. Along the river, people pick up floating scraps to rebuild their homes.
Memories of cyclone are still fresh
|Burmese teacher speaks of the disaster as if it occurred a few days ago|
Like this teacher, many people are afraid to show their faces. They fear the government. They talk as if the disaster happened a few days ago.
“The water level was already up to here at that time. There were five people in that house, so we were afraid that the house will break because of the strong wind. The house started breaking apart. I thought it was better to stay in the kitchen because we could easily go out through the roof. The wind was blowing from all directions, so the house was breaking down. We were praying and saying chants that we could escape,” the teacher recalled.
She says she escaped the cyclone to return the next day to tragedy.
“The next day, I came back here, but everybody died. Two school buildings were also broken down. The teachers were also killed by the cyclone,” she said.
The devastation is still fresh. In this village, concrete houses were destroyed by the wind and surging waters.
Many survived on fruit, food donations
This family lost two children in the cyclone. For days they survived on coconuts and banana stalks. They rebuilt their house out of wood scraps. And they have stored some donated rice.
The village chief says people have food, but their farming tools and seeds are gone.
“At the moment, farmers and day-wage laborers don’t have any work,” the village chief said. “They face difficulties. We have to eat food, rice and beans, from donations.”
Government offered no help to rebuild
He says the villagers received no help from the government.
“We didn’t get anything from the government. They said they will supply us soon. We only got some donations from the monks from Mandalay,” he added.
One of the few teachers left in this village, says, with the help of monks, they built a makeshift school. But she has no complaints. She expects no help from the government.
These villagers are eager to rebuild their lives. Most still need donations until they can plant new crops and find new jobs. But, like the teacher, none showed anger at the lack of government or international help. They said anger would not help.
Page last updated at 21:46 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 22:46 UK
Burmese still struggling after cyclone
By Nga Pham
Many survivors are still lacking assistance, particularly in remote areas
It has been three months since Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, leaving 130,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
On a covert trip to the Irrawaddy Delta region, I found many of the survivors still in need, and the regime still suspicious of foreigners.
Recently, the government started letting aid workers in, but foreign tourists and journalists are still not allowed to visit the affected areas.
I had been warned by my Burmese colleagues that it would be very difficult to move around Burma, and I had to be aware of the many layers of security designed to keep a close eye on visiting foreign nationals.
My plan was to fly to Rangoon, then to hire someone who would be willing to accompany me to the Irrawaddy region.
I would be posing as a Burmese woman to avoid unnecessary attention. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought.
I got a traditional Burmese dress, the longyi. I was also prepared to smear myself with the sunscreen powder you see most Burmese women wearing on their faces.
But finding someone who would go with me was tricky, partly because I had to be careful not to put anyone in danger.
Many people were punished by the regime after the cyclone for helping foreign journalists, or simply because they were spotted travelling with journalists.
Via some contacts, I found a guide who agreed to go with me, on the condition that if he saw any sign of danger at all, we would immediately make our way back.
We left Rangoon early in the morning. We took the ferry cross the Yangon river, swollen, dark and muddy with monsoon rains.
Along the road down into the Irrawaddy region, houses had been repaired, trees had been cut and replanted, pagodas repainted. Paddy fields were covered in the green of the new crop.
However, it was still possible to tell where the cyclone hit, from the pockets of temporary huts scattered across the region.
The cyclone struck at night, when we were sleeping – I saw houses collapsing around my house
Most of the huts I saw did not have proper roofs but were covered with plastic sheets provided by international agencies.
Some of the victims were sitting in the mud. As it is the rainy season, it rains almost daily and vast areas are still flooded.
My guide told me that local people have been warned by the authorities not to speak to foreigners and it took us a while to find someone who agreed to have a chat.
Mr Naing Win is a farmer whose family lost almost everything in the cyclone. I found him living with his wife and two children in a small hut.
“The cyclone struck at night, when we were sleeping,” he said.
Crops are growing once more in paddy fields, but harvest is some way off
“I saw houses collapsing around my house. Then the rain started pouring down through the roof, which by that time was heavily damaged.”
He had nowhere to go, he said, so he simply held a child in each of his arms and stood inside what was left of the house until dawn broke.
“Now we stay in this hut with nothing inside,” said Mr Naing. “The children cough all the time because it is so damp.
“I would like to have somewhere better, more solid for my family to stay. But in order to build a proper house, we’d need at least 300,000 kyat ($300) and I don’t think we’ll ever have the money.”
The government has closed refugee camps in an attempt to prove that everything has returned to normal.
The Paritta Monastery in Kyauktan, near Rangoon, used to host some 250 families. Now, according to head monk U Pyinya Wanttha, they are all gone.
“About a month ago, the government came here and demanded that all the refugees go back to where they were from and they are now living in the temporary shelters that they’ve built from bamboos and pieces of wood,” he told me.
He said the biggest problem now was to provide the victims with proper shelters, as nobody has any money left. And of course they need food, he added, because it will be some time before the new harvest.
Kind people have been donating food, but it is clearly not enough
U Pyinya Wanttha
“Kind people have been donating instant noodles and dry foodstuffs which we transfer to the refugees,” said U Pyinya Wanttha. “But it is clearly not enough.”
Survivors have complained that aid from the government has been scarce.
International charities warn that lack of food could affect millions. Limited access to clean water and unhygienic living conditions are other concerns.
Thu Ya, a local businessman who runs a private relief campaign in the Irrawaddy Delta, said the victims urgently needed help – particularly those in remote areas.
It is monsoon season and they are at risk contracting dangerous illnesses such as malaria, diarrhoea and lung diseases.
The United Nations has urged the Burmese government to assure continued access to remote communities, particularly for international non-governmental organisation partners.
International agencies like Save the Children are worried that since the spotlight seems to have turned away from Burma, it will be impossible to get sufficient funding
On the way into Irrawaddy region, I saw a number of premises emblazoned with agencies’ names, such as Save the Children and Care, but did not see any foreign staff inside.
What I did see, in the space of three hours, were six or seven military checkpoints.
We had to beat a hasty retreat when my guide spotted a large military checkpoint ahead of us, where he said we would be stopped and searched.
A recent joint assessment by Asean, the UN and the Burmese government estimates that a further $1bn is needed for relief and reconstruction work in the country after Cyclone Nargis.
But international agencies like Save the Children are worried that since the spotlight seems to have turned away from Burma, it will be impossible to get sufficient funding.
Myanmar Cyclone Survivors Living in `Dire Conditions,’ UN Says
By Paul Tighe
Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — Villagers in areas of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River Delta are living in “dire conditions” three months after Tropical Cyclone Nargis devastated the southern region, the United Nations said.
“We have seen significant progress being made in the affected areas,” Daniel Baker, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said yesterday, according to the UN. “Much more urgently needs to be done in remote areas where affected communities are still living in dire conditions.”
Food will need to be supplied to about 924,000 people “on a systematic basis” for the next nine months, the UN said. Assistance to isolated villages in the delta “remains a challenge,” it said.
Nargis struck the delta, Myanmar’s main rice-producing region, May 2-3, causing a tidal surge that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million requiring assistance. The country formerly known as Burma needs aid to ensure that farmers are able to plant crops by the end of the season this month, the UN said in July.
The region lost 85 percent of seed stocks and about 50 percent of buffalos as a result of the cyclone, the UN said yesterday. The agriculture industry is the least funded among the UN’s aid programs and requires emergency support of about $51 million, it said.
Relief workers have provided shelter materials for about half of an estimated 488,000 houses damaged in the storm.
“Aid workers now have access to cyclone-affected areas,” Baker said, adding that recovery work is being boosted by cooperation between Myanmar’s military government, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member group that includes Myanmar.
International aid was slow to reach survivors because Myanmar’s military, which has ruled the country since 1962, delayed permission for relief workers to visit the delta until about three weeks after the cyclone struck.
More than 780,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) of rice paddy fields were flooded, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said last month. Livestock, fishing, agriculture and forestry-based industries need to be restored, it said.
The junta has set an exchange rate that has cost the UN about $10 million in cyclone relief funds, John Holmes, the emergency relief coordinator, said last week.
UN agencies have to buy foreign exchange certificates issued by the government which are then used to purchase local currency. The UN has made losses of as much as 25 percent when converting the certificates into cash, said Holmes, who visited the country last month.
Last Updated: August 5, 2008 21:03 EDT
August 6, 2008
In a Washington Post op-ed the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs reflects on a recent visit Myanmar, three months after Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 140,000 people and displaced millions more. He reports that progress is being made.
The international response has helped save lives and reduce suffering. While it is impossible to be sure all survivors have been reached, I am confident that the overwhelming majority have received help, even if many still need a good deal more.Crucially, a much-feared second wave of deaths from starvation or disease has not happened — no small achievement, given that 75 percent of hospitals and clinics in the affected areas were destroyed. The people’s resilience has been remarkable, as was the degree of help and solidarity from individual citizens and organizations in Myanmar.
So what does this mean? For one, it shows that pundits who said that only forced intervention could help the people of Burma were wrong:
[t]he aid operation in Myanmar — as is true everywhere we work — had to be about helping vulnerable people in need, not about politics. In this post-Iraq age, I am concerned that humanitarians are often pressured to choose between the hammer of forced intervention and the anvil of perceived inaction. Was there a realistic alternative to the approach of persistent negotiation and dialogue that we pursued? I do not believe so. Nor have I met anyone engaged in the operations who believes that a different approach would have brought more aid to more people more quickly. (Emphasis added)
John Holmes does not name names. I will. Here in the United States, those who conflated toppling the odious Burmese junta and delivering aid to the vulnerable Burmese people included Robert Kaplan. This Washington Post editorial made basically the same point. Three months later it’s clear that they were wrong. We never had to choose between forced intervention and doing nothing. Fortunately, they were ignored. And in the meantime, lives were saved.