Myanmar: Recovery from Cyclone Nargis still years away despite successes says Save the Children

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Substantial work still needs to be done in rebuilding lives and livelihoods in Myanmar says Save the Children on the second anniversary of the country's worst natural disaster.

Save the Children launched one of its biggest aid operations ever in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which stormed through Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta on the 2nd and 3rd of May 2008 claiming 140,000 lives, and severely impacting 2.4 million people.

In the two years since Cyclone Nargis, Save the Children has provided assistance to 720,000 people, including a quarter of all children affected by the cyclone and spent over US$50 million of grant and appeal funding, the largest international NGO contribution to the response.

"The experience of the last 24 months has demonstrated that despite the challenges of working in Myanmar, large scale humanitarian assistance can be provided effectively and independently," said Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's Country Director in Myanmar.

"But substantial Nargis-related needs remain, in particular in the areas of livelihoods, water and shelter. In hundreds of isolated villages across the south and west of the Delta, recovery is still many months, even years, away."

Local and international agencies have combined efforts to provide substantial relief and recovery support to the people of Myanmar over the two years, including:

- 623,000 children have received education support, including essential learning materials;

- 1,500 schools repaired and more than 280 schools constructed;

- 162,047 households have been provided with shelter assistance;

- 3,800 village water ponds were constructed or rehabilitated;

- 67,430 household latrines constructed;

- 209,000 people were assisted with food and cash for work.

In spite of this, recovery from the cyclone has been uneven across the Delta and in the townships surrounding Yangon.

In the capital, and in the commercial centres and small pagoda towns of the Delta, there has been substantial reconstruction, commerce is bustling, and life is returning to pre-Nargis conditions. Save the Children has been able to re-focus parts of its response on longer-term recovery, with emergency education, protection and health programmes all transitioning into more developmental approaches.

Water: A good sign of recovery is that the number of people who needed assistance with accessing drinking water through the March to May dry season in 2009 has halved to around 180,000 people suffering from Nargis-related water shortages this year. Agencies including Save the Children are again responding, producing and distributing fresh water. However, without addressing longer term problems in water access and quality across the Delta, Save the Children believes chronic shortages will continue, with serious implications for public, and in particular children's, health. There are not currently enough good quality water sources to serve the population all year round. It is estimated that over 40 per cent of the population face routine year-on-year water shortages for at least some part of the dry season. Over 70 per cent of people rely on ponds as their main means of access to water, and insufficient water sources is cited as the main reason for household water shortages.

Education: The situation of many cyclone-affected schools is still deemed critical and in need of assistance especially during the forthcoming monsoon season. Out of 4,000 schools which were destroyed, over 25 per cent still need repairing, reconstructing or new permanent structures. Many of these schools also lack basic furniture. Almost a third of school-age children are unable to attend school due to the cost burden of education. This is especially true for the older children (aged 11-15 years) who look after siblings at home or go to work. Save the Children believes there is still a great need and opportunity to work with government, monastic and community teachers to use Child Centred Teaching Methods more widely within the education system.

Shelter: Household income has not recovered sufficiently for damaged homes to be adequately repaired or replaced, and this sector remains the most underfunded in terms of donor attention. 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during Nargis. Latest assessments show that more than half of homes still need repair, and 84 per cent of households report that their dwelling is "hotter, wetter and more crowded" than before Nargis. Save the Children has supported the construction of 1,200 new homes, and has widely promoted the introduction of safer construction techniques, both for homes and school buildings, as an effective Disaster Risk Reduction measure.

Livelihoods: Livelihood recovery in some parts of the Delta has been slowed by a combination of lack of inputs and capital, and the wider decline of the agricultural economy. Farm Gate rice prices in Myanmar have dropped by 50 per cent since 1997, from 4,000 to 2,000 kyat ($4 to $2) per basket, a reflection of difficult export and pricing policies, as well as inefficiencies in the market chain. There is little or no profit from growing paddy, leading farmers to cut down on inputs, including labour, with immediate implications both for yield and for casual work opportunities for the landless poor.

With many farmers still unable to replace or afford necessary production assets, landowners are taking on higher than normal levels of debt at high rates of interest (over 25 per cent) to secure these inputs. Credit is harder to secure for farmers already in debt, and less credit and more debt means that farmers are reducing inputs.

In the face of reduced labour opportunities, the poorest families have increased their indebtedness in order to meet daily needs. Many families report a reduction in income from around 2,000 kyats ($2) per day pre-Nargis, to between 500 and 1,000 kyats now. Incomes were previously supplemented with small scale fishing, but many households have still not been able to replace their lost fishing assets.

There also remain some enormous gaps in the livelihoods response. It is estimated that 220,000 buffaloes and cattle were lost in the cyclone. To date only 5,400 head of these large livestock have been replaced.

For more media information, or interviews with Andrew Kirkwood, call:
John Lindsay, Media Manager, Save the Children Tel +61 3 9938 2048 or 0437 355 096