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Helping people back to their fields in Myanmar

Source: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - Switzerland - Tue, 4 May 2010 11:22 GMT
Author: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
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By Si Thu, Myanmar Red Cross, and Lasse Norgaard, IFRC

Cyclone Nargis was named after the Urdu word for daffodil. In Myanmar, the name of the devastating cyclone has a more mortal meaning. "Nar" means pain, and "gis" means messed up.

Millions of lives were "painfully messed up" when Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in early May 2008. The past two years have been tough for most of the survivors, trying to get back on their feet after having lost loved ones, houses, boats, paddy fields, livestock, tools and water supplies.

The resilience of the people in the delta and their determination to rebuild their own life and assist others have been highlighted time and again by agencies working there.

However, major challenges remain with an estimated 100,000 families still living in insufficient shelters and with many survivors caught in a vicious cycle of debt, having to borrow money to make money.

Thanks to generous donations from all around the world, the Red Cross is able to support the construction of 15,000 new homes. This may increase by an additional 3,000 as needs remain high.

Additionally, support is given to the construction of more than 90 schools, cyclone shelters and community centres are under repair.

"Communities are closely involved in selecting the beneficiaries, and we have placed 'letter boxes' in the villages, where those who are too shy or disagree with decisions can post their complaints or suggestions," says Bernd Schell, the head of the IFRC country office in Myanmar.

SURVIVORS GET INVOLVED

In one village in Dedaye Township, people suggested increasing support to landless labourers. Land was allocated to them, and 40 new houses built. They now have the right to build more homes on the land provided.

"We also try to integrate all our recovery programmes where possible. For example a school can also serve as an evacuation centre in a disaster situation. At the same time we can improve the water supplies and sanitation and work with teachers to promote hygiene awareness and teach students about disaster preparedness. We can provide water and sanitation and educate the students in hygiene ... and we can plant trees to create a nice environment," explains Schell.

Daw Lay Lay Khin is one of the survivors of the cyclone who is benefitting from a new Asset Recovery programme, which is designed to give people a chance to make an income.

Before Nargis, she was raising ducks near her home in Kyakliat Township, but they all perished in the cyclone. Since then, she has lacked the capital to restart her business.

Now she has received a donation of 20 ducks and with a small cash grant she has bought another 10. She has also received training in duck farming, and with 15 eggs per day to sell at the market, Lay Lay Khin will soon be able to buy an additional 20 ducks taking her flock back to its original pre-Nargis number.

The story of U Myo Min Htut in Maubin is another illustration of how a little financial help can make a big difference in helping someone to recover. When the cyclone submerged his fruit plantation, he was left with no money to restart his business and had to work as a casual labourer.

After receiving a few hundred banana palms and the equivalent of 30 dollars, he is now ready to pluck and sell his first bananas in two years. He soon expects to earn the same as before Nargis, perhaps even more.

The Red Cross livelihoods' support programme is also targeting larger groups, such as farmers with small holdings. Many paddy fields were destroyed and large areas of land affected by salinity after the cyclone.

A special programme for almost 4000 farmers has provided them with fertilisers, cash and training to restore their paddy-fields to productivity. Some of the farmers have taken an extra step and are now qualified to train other farmers.

The rice production in the delta is estimated to be around 60 percent of what it was before Nargis.

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