MYANMAR: Survivors seek shelter from future storms
Cyclone-affected people fear they are ill-prepared to deal with another disaster
AYEYARWADY DELTA, 14 June 2010 (IRIN) - Residents of coastal Kinwon Village in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta saw their houses flattened when Cyclone Nargis struck in May 2008; now they worry that not enough has been done to protect them from future cyclones, despite considerable efforts around the region by international organizations.
"We don't have any strong buildings yet to resist strong winds and storm surge," said Kyaw Kyaw, a volunteer in the village of 1,260 people in Pyapon Township, one of the hardest hit areas.
Specialists say collaborative efforts are needed between the government and partners to better prepare the region's most vulnerable - the poor.
"Disasters are not random killers; they target the vulnerable groups and usually the poorest among the poor," Mel Capistrano, senior officer with the Tripartite Core Group's Recovery Coordination Centre (RCC
), told IRIN.
Preparing for cyclones
When Nargis struck, villagers fled to nearby schools or monasteries, many of which were blown down, highlighting the need for sturdy shelters.
The government has now chosen 10 coastal sites where 20 cyclone shelters will be built - 19 two-storey buildings for 500 people each and a one-storey building for 300 people. A network of 10 roads is also under construction in the region.
According to the UN Human Resettlements Programme (UN-HABITAT
), 356 cyclone shelters have been built across the affected area, 30 percent of them in Labutta Township, the worst hit.
The NGO World Vision
built 24 cyclone-resistant schools and 10 emergency shelters large enough to house up to 600 people each. It also trained more than 100,000 people in disaster preparedness.
But Nargis affected some 2.4 million people, and it has been difficult to reach everyone to make sure they are prepared.
Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
|Most people in the Ayeyarwady Delta live in poorly-built shanties, leaving them vulnerable
"There is no such thing as absolute preparedness. People in the delta are in a more vulnerable condition at the moment since recovery efforts have not brought them back even to the pre-Nargis situation," Capistrano said.
"Limited funding, unavailability of sites for construction and inadequate numbers of private construction firms with experience working in the delta are some of the major hindering factors in the building of enough quality cyclone shelters," he said.
Over the past 60 years, Myanmar has experienced 11 severe tropical cyclones, two of which made landfall over the Ayeyarwady Delta region. In addition, the 2004 tsunami killed 60 people and left 2,500 homeless.
Although data for the government's disaster-preparedness budget is unavailable, the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan estimated US$32 million of funding was needed to cover programmes on disaster preparedness, but according to the latest figures to end-2009, the UN and international NGOs have received only $2.59 million.
Through disaster risk reduction training of volunteers in at-risk communities, more villagers understand the warning signs.
Ryoko Iizuka, programme manager of the UN Development Programme (UNDP
) Myanmar, said community-level preparedness must be linked to higher-level initiatives and policies.
"Nationwide policies and mechanisms must be strengthened," she said. An early warning system, building guidelines, land management and disaster management planning "would require collaborative efforts with strong commitment, technical expertise and resources".
Iizuka said local authorities also had to work more on transportation and evacuation-centre management.
The Ayeyarwady Delta has a complex system of streams and estuaries, which can hinder evacuation efforts in times of emergencies, experts say.