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Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar: A Year After

Categories: East Asia, Myanmar (Burma), Disaster, Environment, Governance, Health, Humanitarian Response, Refugees, Youth

A deadly cyclone [1] hit Myanmar’s southern Irrawaddy delta in May 2008 which affected more than 2 million people. It is estimated that 138,000 people were killed and 200,000 people have been missing after the cyclone struck the country. A year after the Cyclone Nargis tragedy, survivors are still suffering while reconstruction efforts remain inadequate. Contributions are still needed [2] in order to help the cyclone survivors [3].

Many survivors are suffering from deep psycho-social distress [4] but only 11 percent have received medical assistance. More than forty per cent of the homeless are children; many of them are vulnerable to malaria [5] and pneumonia.

Some are surviving by trapping rodents [6] in the fields. It was also reported that prostitution [7] is on the rise in the Delta as economic conditions continue to worsen.

More than half of the survivors are still dependent on aid [8] given by relief groups. Indebtedness remains a big problem of residents in the Delta:

According to the United Nations World Food Program, 51 percent of households reported that they are still relying on food aid from humanitarian agencies, while only 25 percent said they could feed themselves…About 83 percent of households said they have been in debt through the purchase of rice.

It was reported that during the first year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division censored [9] articles about the real situation of the cyclone-affected areas.

Friends of Burma Group want the government to be more transparent [10] about its aid efforts in the Delta region. They also want the freedom of political prisoners [11] who were jailed for organizing relief missions last year:

We want to demand the Burmese government to open more for relief and recovery in the effected area with transparency and respect to human rights.

We demand for releasing 21 prisoners that have been arrested due to relief work

Despite the coordinated efforts of international groups to raise funds for Myanmar, aid remains inadequate [12]. The United Nations has estimated that more than US$691 million are needed to sustain relief missions in Myanmar.

Observers note that aid contributions for Myanmar are very small [13] compared to what countries contributed during the Tsunami disaster in 2004. Myanmar received US$300 million, or 2.5 per cent of what was spent on the 2004 tsunami.

Aid workers complain of the difficulties [14] they encountered while delivering aid inside Myanmar:

Difficulties encountered by aid workers: logistical; the difficulties and dangers of reaching villages only by small boats, navigating the tides and the weather of the Delta. Note visa restrictions, travel restrictions, and the government stealing supplies….

Edward Hew of Relief Operations from MERCY Malaysia writes about the reconstruction projects [15] in Myanmar today

A year later, we have seen many projects up and running, many still in progress. But there are those who still suffer in silence. There is so much to be done. Many had use the Tsunami as a lesson to implement the intervention here.

A year has passed and most projects are yet to focus on sustainability but are still on emergency intervention. I have seen many shelter projects that may not survive the next thunderstorm. For example, latrines built with tarpaulin sheets instead of local materials like bamboo, a sturdier choice which is easy to maintain.

For more updates about the Cyclone Nargis anniversary, check out these websites which have special pages about the situation in the Delta: The Irrawaddy [16], Mizzima [17], and A Diary of the Cyclone Nargis [18].

Learn the story of Daw San Yee who survived the cyclone by watching this YouTube video: