Food worries for cyclone survivors

Aye Mya always struggled to provide food for her family, but after Cyclone Giri that task has become almost impossible.

"Now it's even harder to put a meal on the table for my family," said Aye Mya, a 36-year-old single mother of two, as she cooked the family's first meal of the day at lunchtime outside her makeshift hut in a small village in western Rakhine State - a four hour-motorboat ride away from Myebon, the hardest-hit area.

The category 4 storm that struck western Myanmar on 22 October killed 45 and affected some 260,000 while destroying a large portion of the region's paddy fields and fishing industry - the primary sources of livelihood.

An estimated 86,000 farming households and 7,500 fishing households were left food-insecure, the UN Development Programme said.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 200,000 people need food assistance in the worst-affected townships of Myebon, Kyaukphyu, Pauktaw and Minbya.

Impact on rice production

As the cyclone struck right before the annual harvest in November and early December, many farmers lost all or most of their crops.

"This will result in a loss of food production, and will have an impact on the food security situation of the affected farmers," Carlos Veloso, WFP country representative to Myanmar, told IRIN.

At the same time, whatever rice stores residents had in their homes were also lost to the storm.

Traditionally farmers in Rakhine State can grow rice only once a year in the monsoon season (May to mid-October), as opposed to some areas of the country where access to fresh water is more readily available, allowing two harvests.

Photo: Toe Toe/IRIN
A woman having her first meal of the day in the afternoon

"Right now farmers in the Giri-affected area - depending on the level of the damage inflicted on their farms - are facing food insecurity or are receiving food aid," Tesfai Ghermazien, Myanmar's senior emergency coordinator with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said.

Agency efforts

WFP distributed 1,353MT of rice to nearly 200,000 beneficiaries in the worst-affected townships in November. The UN agency also plans to distribute 6,580MT of food, comprising rice, pulses, oil and salt, in December and January.

"WFP remains committed to continuing the provision of food assistance to the people in need, and to improve the food security situation in the most vulnerable areas," Veloso said.

To better understand the current food security situation, including household consumption and access, WFP and FAO will conduct an in-depth food security and livelihood assessment beginning in the third week of December.

All the 200,000 affected people are receiving food assistance, Veloso said.

Food running out

But despite that effort, many cyclone-affected complain that food aid often runs out long before the distribution arrives.

"I received rice expected to last for one month, but it ran out within two weeks," said one villager from Pyae Chaung, about a seven hour-motor boat ride from Myebon.

Laurent Campigotto, head of mission of Action Contre La Faim (ACF) in Yangon, said that depending on the capacities of agencies, the amount of food assistance could be different from one place to another.

"Families who have received low assistance have to use coping mechanisms such as borrowing food, or borrowing cash to buy food," Campigotto said.

Many residents say not only is it harder for them to earn money now, but even finding rice in the market is proving problematic, leaving many to worry about possible price hikes.

"Without action to support these farming families in accessing food and seeds," warned Campigotto, "food insecurity would be hampered for a longer time."