Cyclone assessment reveals critical food, water shortages

An estimated 46 percent of families in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady delta have less than two days’ worth of food, according to an initial post-disaster assessment.

The news underscores the urgent need to bring more food into the region almost eight weeks after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the area, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing.

The discovery of significant household food shortages is just one of the crucial early findings of an ongoing assessment of the disaster relief effort by the UN, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Myanmar government, released on 24 June.

While the data collected from 10 days of field research was still being collated and analysed, Richard Blewitt, project manager for the Village Tract Assessment, said it showed survivors of Cyclone Nargis were “living precariously”.

“The findings tell a story of a shaken rural economy,” he told IRIN from Yangon, the former Burmese capital. “People are rebuilding, but slowly. They are on the edge, and there is a need for continued relief,” he said.

The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) is intended to give both international aid agencies and donor governments a credible, independent picture of the extent of the damage and the humanitarian relief effort so far.

In addition to the Village Tract Assessment – which focuses on how survivors have been getting by since the storm - the final report, due next month, will include a tally of the economic and physical losses from the disaster.

More than 300 people – including international and national staffers of the UN, NGOs, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and ASEAN, with Myanmar civil servants and local civil society volunteers – were involved in what is being described as the first systematic look at the results of the disaster since Nargis struck on 2 and 3 May. The Myanmar government assigned 20 staff members from 18 different ministries to join the assessment effort.

“It is a snapshot of the emergency and early recovery needs on the ground across the 30 most affected townships,” Blewitt said.

In addition, the assessment is intended to serve as a common reference point for discussions between the Myanmar government and international aid agencies on how best to help an estimated 2.4 million survivors rebuild their lives.



Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Houses are being rebuilt with bamboo rather than wood, used before the cyclone

“What we are trying to do is identify priority needs, create a common information base to share between the sectors, and provide baseline information for future monitoring and evaluation,” Blewitt said.

Water shortages

Food shortages were just part of the preliminary findings, with 60 percent of households reporting inadequate access to clean drinking water, while 22 percent reported being under psychological stress.

The study has also found that 59 percent of homes in the delta were severely damaged in the storm and subsequent tidal surge.

And while the region’s resilient villagers have rebuilt some form of shelter for themselves, those are mostly fragile bamboo structures, with an estimated lifespan of just two years, far worse than the sturdier wooden houses they had before.

“They are building back worse, not building back better,” Blewitt said.

Data gathering

To understand the conditions of delta residents, 32 five-member teams from various organisations this month fanned across the 30 worst-affected townships, which were divided into 128 identical quadrants.

The field teams visited the village closest to the centre of every quadrant, and then surveyed at least two other villages nearby.

To reach these often remote locales, the surveyors travelled by car, motorcycle, boat and helicopter. They also walked long distances to reach some villages accessible only by foot.

In each village, the teams conducted 10 household questionnaires, interviews with a few so-called “key informants”, including community leaders, and focus group discussions to gather data.

Survivors were questioned on how much food they had in store, their post-cyclone livelihoods situation, how they planned to meet their families’ daily needs, and whether they had access to medical care.

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