Myanmar is a different country in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. But livelihoods are recovering and communities are growing stronger. In the Delta area, cyclone resistant schools are being built to become community shelters should another cyclone hit. Communities are developing risk reduction plans so the tragic Nargis death toll won't be repeated.
May 2009 marks one year since Myanmar was devastated by a cyclone. World Vision is continuing its work with the people of Myanmar’s cyclone-scarred Ayeyarwady Delta.
“World Vision has been working in Myanmar for 40 years, so when the cyclone hit we were able to work immediately with the local community, accessing 600 staff who were working with the community in development programs,” says World Vision’s James Tumbuan.
After the disaster, the threat to people’s health was critical, with water ponds contaminated and salty due to the cyclonic tidal surge that drowned the villages. Water purification units and health education for survivors proved essential to prevent the spread of deadly diseases like dysentery, cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid.
In the rehabilitation phase, World Vision is building 16 cyclone resistant schools and funding water, sanitation and hygiene programs. Livelihoods are gradually being restored as fish stocks recover and fertility slowly returns to the damaged land. Tidal salt on the land significantly diminished last year’s rice crops. Traditionally, farmers in Myanmar use oxen-drawn ploughs to till their land but most livestock- oxen, water buffalo, hens, goats, oxen and even ducks - were killed by the storm.
To aid the communities to recover, World Vision is distributing boats and nets to fishing families and hand tractors and threshing machines to farmers. Hand tractors are essential to help farmers recover fertility in the salt-damaged soil and plant crops quickly for the next growing season.
Resembling a giant lawnmower, these tractors have two huge paddle wheels on the side to plough the fields. Farmers say the mini-tractor is faster than bullocks, but the technology is a timesaver for women and children as well. “Children don’t have to feed tractors,” says one woman - and this means that children have more time both for schoolwork and for play.
Before Nargis, Kun Thee Chaung village was home to 1,200 people. Only 11 houses survived the cyclone. One year later, many families are still depending on World Vision shelter kits because the bamboo they weave into walls and the banana palms they thatch for their roofs has been washed away.
World Vision’s Mia Marina says the resilience of the people and their commitment to help each other has assisted in their recovery, but the community still has tremendous needs.
“To alleviate the suffering and help people fulfill their daily needs, we are focusing on the worst affected areas with the greatest need.” Marina says. World Vision is “re-building healthy communities” with a two-year recovery and rehabilitation plan, which includes disaster preparedness and risk reduction strategies to help prevent a repeat of the Nargis death toll.