Myanmar: Harvest prospects good but landless still need food assistance

News and Press Release
Originally published
HTANPINGONE , 24 October 2008 (IRIN) - Almost six months after Cyclone Nargis swept away her livestock, Kyi Than, 45, is unable to afford rice for her family of six on her meagre income.

"I get about 1,000 kayt [US$0.80] per day from road-repairing," Kyi Than told IRIN, as she filled the potholes in the road between Kunchangone and Dadaye, in the south of the country, with stones and soil.

"But this job is not available every day ... I don't know how long we can rely on the rice distribution," said the mother of four from Htanpingone Village, near Kunchangone town in the Ayeyarwady delta.

Thousands of landless cyclone-affected people such as Kyi Than have to rely solely on food assistance from humanitarian agencies as they lost their food stocks and businesses to Cyclone Nargis.

According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, 42 percent of all food stocks were destroyed and 55 percent of families only had stocks for one day or less. Rates of dependency on food aid were more than 90 percent in some villages in the frontline townships of Labutta and over 70 percent in Dadaye.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have distributed baskets of food - each comprising 60kg of rice, 15kg of pulses, 4.5kg of oil, and 0.75kg of iodised salt - to 776,000 cyclone-affected people.

As of 8 October, WFP had delivered 40,013 tonnes of food assistance to affected areas through its partners.

Thanks to effective intervention, the health and nutrition of cyclone-affected people have not deteriorated significantly, despite initial concerns that many households would risk acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among infants, young children and pregnant and lactating women.

"We won't stop delivering food . Based on the assessment, we will continue delivering food to the needy households," Chris Kaye, WFP country director, told IRIN in Yangon, the former capital.

However, he expected WFP should be able to wind down food assistance to farmers as this year's harvest was reportedly going to be good.

Kaye said the agency was planning food-for-work activities in the Ayeyarwady Division next month, to benefit about 125,000 villagers in the delta.

In addition, WFP was planning a pilot cash-for-work project targeted at 500 households.

He said WFP needed $115 million for its food assistance programme from May 2008 to April 2009. So far, it had received $80 million.

Logistical challenges

"We face logistical challenges in transporting sizeable quantities of commodities into the delta for rapid dispatch," Kaye said.

Local and international NGOs concurred, saying bad roads continued to restrict the delivery of much-needed relief and recovery supplies to survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

As roads to the delta have deteriorated during the monsoon season, humanitarian agencies said they had to use waterways.

"We can use WFP flights for passengers," one NGO official told IRIN. "But we have to mainly rely on water transport to transfer the goods from Yangon to the storm-ravaged areas."

In addition, WFP said it had to pay higher prices for rice from Thailand and cooking oil from Malaysia, as sales of local rice were still prohibited.