Helping Myanmar, one year after the storm


May 21, 2009

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    Photos: Reuters/Stringer, courtesy of  </span>
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It was just over one year ago — on May 2, 2008 — that Cyclone Nargis made landfall along Myanmar’s coast. The high winds, heavy rains and tidal surge killed more than 140,000 people, severely damaged or destroyed buildings and bridges, and completely disrupted the livelihoods of fishermen, farmers and families living in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta.

Mercy Corps responded to the disaster quickly, rushing items such as tarpaulins, work boots and wind-up flashlights to local non-governmental organizations providing relief in the Delta and partnering with the UK-based medical aid organization Merlin, which had worked in the devastated Delta township of Laputta since 2004.

A community-centered response

In addition to supporting Merlin's efforts to restore clean water and sanitation in Laputta — where an estimated 80,000 of 350,000 residents died in the cyclone — Mercy Corps began helping rice farmers rehabilitate more than 2,000 acres of field, hungry families grow their own vegetables, and out-of-work residents in 88 villages earn a fair wage by clearing debris and repairing roads and buildings.

One year after the storm:

  • More than 2,400 families received materials to cultivate rice
  • More than 3,186 families received materials to start small-scale kitchen gardens
  • More than 1,077 families received agricultural inputs such as rice seed, tillers andfertilizer for winter crops
  • 1,270 families received livestock
  • 295 individuals benefited from microenterprise grants
  • 605 boats were distributed
  • 103 ponds were cleaned
  • A total of 13,794 men and women from 98 villages earned approximately $435,000 through Cash-for-Work projects, providing an immediate cash infusion to the local economy to help restart local markets, assist with food-security and provide stability for local communities

From emergency aid to longer-term recovery

Cash-for-work projects are a signature Mercy Corps approach, providing a quick and critical boost to local economies. Our team’s assessment showed that our cash-for-work program helped residents with address community needs like drainage rehabilitation and removal of standing water, road construction, employment generation, general village debris cleaning, and a revitalized transportation infrastructure.

In addition to giving them a source of income, the majority of respondents said that they enjoyed participating in the program because it allowed them to stay in their own villages for work; it reduced their feelings of stress, trauma, or helplessness brought on by the cyclone; and it created a healthy environment in the community.

Furthermore, many survivors enjoyed the program because it allowed them to buy fishing nets or other livelihoods assets, or because they received tools, equipment or other materials that they could then use to rehabilitate their homes and land.

In addition to the cash income and resumption of economic activities, 100 percent of respondents reported that the Village Rehabilitation Project’s cash-for-work activities made it possible for them to return to or stay in their own villages.

Next steps

We’ve accomplished a lot in a year’s time, but our work in Myanmar is not done. We're scaling up our economic recovery programs in Laputta township, establishing community resource banks for draught animals and power tillers, distributing boats and nets to help still-devastated fishing families, and training livestock owners and veterinarians in better animal care and breeding practices.

We're also making sure the community's gains are sustainable ones. In January, Mercy Corps helped open the Laputta Community Resource Center, a project designed to boost the ability of local groups to support community-led recovery efforts. And we continue to assist other local organizations — by partnering with them on needs assessments and seed distributions and providing them with training in key areas.

When our work in Myanmar is finished, we hope to leave in place a local network of organizations that can carry out the work of building sustainable rural communities.