It has been nine months since Myanmar was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which killed up to 140,000 people, and left millions of others in need of food, shelter and medicine. Now, a UN-led group overseeing recovery from the disaster has made a fresh appeal for mid-term relief assistance. The group in its meeting on Monday was upbeat in its assessment of Myanmar’s recovery and progress, despite initial hiccups. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.
International aid helped cyclone survivors to recover
The new appeal launched on Monday by the Tripartite Core Group -- the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the UN and Myanmar’s military government is for 691 million dollars over a three year period.
The calls for medium term development funds follows an initial request of more than 450 million dollars immediately after Cyclone Nargis hit landfall over May 2 and 3 2008.
The devastation claimed as many as 140,000 dead and missing, severely affecting over two million people largely in the Irrawaddy Delta region. Tens of thousands of draft animals were lost, leading to fears over the recovery of the region’s agriculture known as the country’s ‘rice bowl’.
Initial restrictions and delays
ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan, gave a positive assessment of the recovery program after international donors initially faced restrictions and delays by the military government.
Recovery and assistance efforts had been a "very positive and constructive experience", Mr Surin said. "ASEAN has learned and become more confident. The international community itself has gained experiences and good experiences of working in a special situation like Myanmar. And the government and the people of Myanmar certainly have gained confidence that the international community is willing to assist in every way it can."
Surin came under fire over Myanmar’s human rights record. Well-known Myanmar comedian and political activist Zarganar was arrested and sentenced to 59 years jail after providing assistance to Nargis victims. But Surin said the international aid community’s "immediate mission" was to deliver assistance and work within what he called "the limited space".
The meeting in Bangkok was also attended by non-government and international aid organizations. Myanmar was represented by U Kyaw Thu, chair of the Tripartite Core Group and former deputy foreign minister.
Agricultural production recovers
Chris Kaye, World Food Programme Myanmar, said recovery in agricultural production in the Southern delta regions -- outside the hardest hit areas -- had exceeded expectations. The 2008/09 cereal output was forecast at 21 million metric tonnes, just three per cent below the previous year.
Kaye said the international response to provide the necessary inputs, such as seed, had played a key role in the recovery. "The most important thing is the country is food secure – Myanmar has consistently produced more food than last year", Kaye said. The rice production in the Eastern part of the Delta had been "quite significant".
But Kaye also said in the hardest hit regions where there had been "massive loss of life" many survivors were reluctant to return given their traumatic experience.
The latest appeal is aimed at medium term support for farmers, fishermen, labourers, and small enterprises which have been facing limited access to credit. The Group said there was also an urgent need to continue construction of improved household and community shelters.
For the medium term recovery strategy, restoration of local education and health systems remained a priority as well as access to safer water and sanitation systems.