MYANMAR: Two years on, livelihoods top cyclone needs
Day labourers are struggling to find work
AYEYARWADY DELTA, 3 May 2010 (IRIN) - Residents of the Ayeyarwady Delta, the area worst affected by Cyclone Nargis, have long known that food aid would end after two years, and some, like 55-year-old Sein Hla, advocate for self-reliance instead.
“We can’t always rely on food aid,” she said. “We have to stand on our own in order to move on.”
Cyclone Nargis destroyed Sein Hla’s home, killed five of her relatives and more than 600 people in her village, Kun Thee Chaung in Bogalay District.
Today, Sein Hla’s husband and son farm 6ha of land, while she sells snacks in the temporary hut the family has built, but they are now mired in debt.
Farmers often borrow money from rice traders and rice mill owners to buy rice seeds, fertiliser and fuel. The joint monthly report
by the Myanmar government, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the UN noted that access to credit on reasonable terms or direct funding would greatly help farmers replace lost assets.
“We can work on the farm as before, but we still need to get loans from others in order to cover farming costs,” Sein Hla said. “We hope to pay back the loans soon.”
Before Nargis, farmers hired one worker for each 4ha at between US$1.50 and $2 per day, also providing rice and accommodation for the labourer’s family.
But now jobs are scarce and returnees’ livelihoods are one of the most pressing issues since the cyclone devastated the Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008.
The recovery of “income-generating activities is crucial to landless household livelihoods, and is still low”, the report warns.
“If support for livelihood activities does not continue, there is a risk that many gains made since Nargis could be lost,” it states.
According to the government and aid agencies, 71 percent of household members rely on casual or seasonal work.
Farmers and fishermen
Delta residents are primarily farmers and fishermen, so restoring livelihoods would not only provide work, but also produce food for immediate use, said Tesfai Ghermazien of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO
) in Myanmar.
“Making them productive is the lasting solution, not food aid,” he said, noting that restoring livelihoods must happen alongside food distribution.
Since the category four storm struck, extensive relief efforts have provided some 1.1 million people with food aid, and more than 162,000 homes have been rebuilt or rehabilitated, according to a report
released this week.
Photo: Mon Mon Myat/IRIN
|Women buying fish in Kun Thee Chaung Village, Bogale Township. Fishing is a major part of the local economy
More than 344,000 households received agriculture support, and some 25,000 fishing boats were distributed, but livelihoods remain severely under-funded.
“The world has shifted attention to other disasters, and that’s an explanation as to why funding is not coming to us,” said Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA
) in Myanmar.
He noted that the delta’s population was resilient and would not traditionally choose to receive international aid.
“If we have the funds required, that would give them the momentum to really rebuild their lives,” he said.
Approximately $150 million is needed for livelihoods, the April recovery update states. Farmers in the 11 most affected townships lost 227,000 buffaloes and cows, and over the past two years, only 5,423 have been replaced. Of all the sectors, agriculture is “the one least funded, although 90 percent of the delta population depend for their livelihoods on farming and/or fisheries”, said Tesfai of the FAO.