Three years on, life in Myanmar’s cyclone-devastated villages returns with resilience

Three years after Cyclone Nargis decimated Myanmar’s southern coast, Plan is winding down relief and recovery efforts and is upgrading its long-term presence in the country.

The cyclone which struck in early May 2008, devastating the Ayeyarwady Delta and Yangon regions, killed more than 140,000 people and injured many more. Damage was estimated at $10 billion.

Having lost their families, friends, and all belongings, cyclone survivors have shown their resiliency, rebuilding homes, replanting farmland, going back to schools, learning to cope with losses and looking towards the future with recovery help from local and international organizations.

“Just as Japanese tsunami survivors have been widely reported in the media as stoic and resilient, Myanmar people have shown unparalleled spirit to fight and rebuild their lives and communities,” Plan International Disaster Response Project Manager Prem Shukla says.

Over the past three years, Plan has worked with the Yinthway Foundation, UNESCO’s Myanmar Education Recovery Programme (MERP), the Metta Foundation and Bridge Asia Japan, focusing on the villages around the townships of Myaungmya, Laputta, Mawlamyingpun and Bogale. In total, around 194,000 people have directly benefited from Plan’s relief and recovery efforts.

After initial emergency needs of housing, food, and healthcare were addressed, Plan and its partners worked with communities to rebuild devastated villages and improve school facilities to better than they were prior to the cyclone.

“The aim was not only to get schools back on their feet, but also to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of any future natural disasters by rebuilding and improving infrastructure and educating and empowering children, teachers, parents and the community at large,” Shukla says.

New schools Working with local partners, Plan has built and renovated 51 schools and handed them over to local authorities, benefiting thousands of children. Fourteen of the new schools are disaster resilient and can act as emergency shelters.

Plan has been running numerous training programs to ensure that communities in the area are better equipped to deal with future environmental challenges. Plan also supported the construction of a vocational skills training centre at Laputta to provide gainful employment for orphaned youth from villages affected by Cyclone Nargis.

Early childhood centers Shortly after the cyclone hit, Plan began working with partners to build or upgrade 43 emergency early childhood care and development (ECCD) centers and play areas for small children − essential for creating a sense of normalcy and starting the recovery process after the disaster.

These centers also proved integral to improving the health of young children by providing a feeding program and reducing disease through a hygienic environment. The centers and trainings have benefitted some 15,000 families.

Training people to stay safe The spread of information on staying safe during natural disasters to teachers, children and the general community in the Delta region has been another core goal of Plan. Disaster risk reduction trainings have been carried out in partnership with local NGO partners Bridge Asia Japan, and the Yinthway Foundation as well as UNESCO, benefitting some 440,000 people.

“As Plan’s post-Nargis work draws to a close, it’s clear that our efforts have improved the lives of children, their families and communities. Life in the Delta is picking up momentum with better preparedness and confidence to deal with a similar situation should it happen again,” Shukla says.