BANGKOK (AlertNet) - A massive shortfall in funding means more than 100,000 people are still homeless three months after Cyclone Giri hit Myanmar and thousands are in debt with bleak prospects of recovering their income, aid officials say.
Although emergency relief was swiftly distributed and covered the most basic needs after the category four storm struck, aid agencies say they are facing an uphill struggle to help survivors rebuild their lives and find jobs.
Of the $57 million needed for the period February 2011 to June 2012, donors have provided $22 million, less than half the amount, a senior aid official said.
“Sixty-eight percent of the affected population is already in debt for covering their basic needs, of which 85 percent cannot repay the debts in this year,” Srinivasa Popuri, head of the United Nations’ housing agency UN-HABITAT in Myanmar, told AlertNet on Wednesday.
“Bottom line is that should there be no support forthcoming for shelter especially for (the 104,000) homeless, there will be another humanitarian crisis when monsoon (season) arrives.”
Cyclone Giri made landfall in Rakhine State in western Myanmar on Oct. 22, causing a tidal surge and winds with Myebon, Pauktaw, Kyaukpyu and Minbya the most affected townships.
Popuri said $13 million was required to provide housing for 20,000 families who are stuck in emergency shelter -- rickety huts covered with tarpaulins -- or staying with host families in dire, overcrowded conditions.
Another 30,000 families who need help with their damaged houses will have to do the repairs themselves, which they can ill afford.
CHEAPEST SHELTER SOLUTION
The rainy season in western Myanmar, which runs from June till October, is among the heaviest in the world with an average annual rainfall of 5 metres, according to UN-HABITAT. Storms and cyclones occur every year.
New shelters resilient to the weather will cost at least $600 in Myanmar, compared with $5,000 and $8,000 -- the average cost of shelter in Aceh and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
“This is the cheapest shelter solution of all disasters in the world,” Popuri said.
Aid to Myanmar has always been highly politicised. The country, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has been ruled for decades by a brutal military.
Shelter is seen as the government’s responsibility and has been consistently one of the least funded services if the aftermath of Cyclone Giri and Cyclone Nargis almost three years ago are taken into account.
On Monday, an elected parliament convened in Myanmar for the first time in half a century in a sprawling five-year-old capital built from scratch. Lawmakers are tasked with choosing Myanmar's first civilian president since a 1962 coup ushered in 49 unbroken years of military dictatorship.
Filled with lavish mansions, five golf courses, seven resort-style hotels and a large zoo, observers estimate it must have cost billions of dollars, drawing criticism over the priorities of a country facing chronic poverty and crumbling infrastructure.
HUNGRY AND IN DEBT
The ability of people to buy food, the availability of food and general nutrition levels in Rakhine State has also been a concern for aid agencies even before the cyclone hit and they are concerned the cyclone will worsen the situation.
A recent assessment by two U.N. agencies, Food and Agricultural Organisation and World Food Programme, found a third of the survivors are relying on food aid.
“If that is not there, food security may deteriorate,” said Tasfai Ghermazien from the FAO in Myanmar.
Almost three quarters of the population make their living as fishermen, farmers and casual labourers. The majority are small-scale farmers, owning less than five hectares of land.
Most have seen their incomes almost wiped out. Around 60 percent of the rice production from 2010 has been lost and over 90 percent of all rice fields have been damaged by the cyclone in Myebon alone, according to U.N. figures.
Embankments, boats and fishing gear were also damaged.
“Without the embankments, salt intrusion will have an impact on their harvest. They can plant but it's a futile exercise... If they have two consecutive seasons without production then one can see it's going to be a lot of trouble,” Ghermazien said.
The assessment also showed many households have been borrowing money to buy food and cover other expenses.
"If both farmers and fishermen are not helped to improve their livelihood, they will likely get into a debt that they cannot get out of so easily,” Ghermazien said.
Once again, part of the problem is funding. The livelihood cluster has received less than 3 percent of funds needed, he said. However, there are hopes that survivors can be helped through a food-for-work programme, in which survivors are hired to repair dykes and embankments in return for food.
The United Nations said the funding slowdown for Giri echoes the response following Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which left some 140,000 dead and disrupted the lives of an estimated 2.4 million people. The cyclone was the worst natural disaster to hit Asia since the 2004 tsunami yet only a third of funding needed has been received, the U.N. said.