Cyclone Nargis swept across Myanmar on May 2 and 3, 2008, triggering a huge sea surge and killing nearly 140,000 people.
- Over 2 million affected
- Damage estimated at $4 bn
- U.N. appeal underfunded
The storm destroyed villages and paddy fields, seriously affecting up to 2.4 million people in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta.
Two years on, aid workers say around 800,000 survivors are still living in makeshift shelters. The home-made shelters cobbled together from tarpaulin and bamboo poles, give them little protection from the elements, especially during the annual monsoon season.
And tens of thousands of people lack drinking water, especially during the dry season which lasts from November to May. Ponds and wells were heavily salinated after sea-water flooded the region during the cyclone.
About 1,000 km of coastal embankments - which protect the region from floods - need repairing. Some aid agencies say another major storm will destroy the homes and infrastructure that have been rebuilt.
Aid levels have dropped too low to enable cyclone survivors to recover their way of life.
Many farmers are struggling with crippling debts after the cyclone destroyed their crops and most of the region's livestock.
Rice yields are down by about 40 percent compared with pre-Nargis levels, partly because flood embankments damaged by the cyclone no longer protect rice fields from sea water at high tide, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation in Myanmar says.
Farmers who have been unable to borrow enough money, have begun selling their land and now make a living as casual labourers. This has reduced job opportunities for people who were labourers before the cyclone struck.
Fishing communities too are struggling to recover.
The main aid coordinating body - the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) - has not yet been able to raise enough funds for its recovery plan. A global economic crisis is squeezing foreign donor governments, and Myanmar already receives far less aid than other poor countries because of its dismal human rights record.
A post-cyclone assessment by the TCG has estimated the damage at $4 billion. It says some 42 percent of food stocks were destroyed.
The TCG comprises the United Nations, Myanmar and its Southeast Asian neighbours.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) stopped distributing food aid in the delta region in December 2009, saying it was no longer needed.
Most of those who died were killed by a 3.5 metre (12-foot) wall of water that hit the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta along with 240 kph (150 mph) winds. The dead included 10,000 who perished in just one town, Bogalay, 90 km southwest of Yangon.
The cyclone was the worst to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh.
But the country's ruling generals, who have a deep mistrust of the outside world, were initially reluctant to let foreign aid workers into the country, sparking strong international criticism.
After three weeks, Myanmar's junta finally agreed to admit international aid workers, albeit under tight restrictions. The government accepted relief flights into Yangon but rejected offers of French and American ships delivering aid. The military regime also let WFP airlift supplies into the delta and allowed in medical teams from Southeast Asian neighbours.
Before his breakthrough deal with the junta, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said aid workers had only been able to reach around a quarter of those in need.
Aid workers say much has been achieved since, but it will take years of sustained international support for the worst hit areas to fully recover.
Some had expressed initial optimism that their work in the cyclone area could lead to more humanitarian access elsewhere in the country. But the generals have dashed any hope of that, arresting activists who led private cyclone relief efforts and tightening their grip ahead of scheduled 2010 elections.
The Myanmar regime says it is ending the TCG's mandate in July 2010, and it is unclear how this will affect foreign agencies operating in the delta. The TCG says its planned recovery programmes will continue until the end of December 2011.
MONKS DELIVER AID
Following the cyclone survivors crammed into monasteries, schools and other buildings after arriving in towns that were on the breadline even before the disaster.
The homeless clamoured to get into privately - run shelters rather than government-run camps. In Bogalay, some complained of forced labour and low supplies of food at the state-run centres.
Frustrated by the speed of the official response, ordinary people sent trucks and vans into the delta with clothes, biscuits, dried noodles and rice provided by private companies and individuals. With almost total distrust of the government, private aid was left for distribution by Buddhist monks, who have immense moral authority.
Officials said legal action would be taken against anybody found hoarding or selling relief supplies, amid rumours of local military units expropriating trucks of food, blankets and water.
Some weeks into the aid operation, the United Nations revealed it had suffered significant losses because of distorted official exchange rates. The government later agreed to let outside donors pay local companies directly and in U.S. dollars, rather than via the official, long-winded system involving foreign exchange certificates.
Nargis destroyed 375,000 homes, according to government estimates. The United Nations puts the figure higher at 450,000.
Only a small proportion of these have been rebuilt, while the majority have been repaired by their owners. But many of these patched-up homes are fragile.
Normally, natural materials such as thatch from palm trees and shrubs are used to make cheap, relatively rainproof roofing, but Nargis destroyed trees along with buildings.
Nearly all Nargis survivors received some form of emergency shelter after the storm, including those few allowed into the junta's "model villages" after the generals were criticised for their slow response to the disaster.
But donors have been consistently reluctant to fund shelter. Although they give money for education, health care and food, donors consider housing and infrastructure to be the government's responsibility.
AGRICULTURE AND DEBT
The Irrawaddy Delta, an area covering some 23,500 sq km, is known as the country's rice bowl.
Across the cyclone zone families are seeing mounting debts and shrinking crops. Output has fallen due to soil salinity, lost livestock, a lack of credit and outbreaks of pests damaging paddy fields.
Meanwhile, prices for rice and other commodities have plunged along with the global economy. Add to that the rising cost of inputs like fertiliser and many farmers say growing rice is no longer commercially viable.
Despite the cyclone, the junta went ahead with a referendum on May 10, 2008, on a new constitution - part of the army's much-criticised "roadmap to democracy", and said 92 percent voted in favour. The opposition and Western governments said it was a blueprint for the generals to cement their grip on power.
Myanmar has been ruled by a military junta since 1962. The referendum was postponed by a fortnight in areas hit by the cyclone.
Western governments led by the United States and Britain have also criticised the planned 2010 poll as a sham aimed at entrenching rule by the military, which refused to recognise the last election won in 1990 by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
For more background on the country see Myanmar troubles