Mercy Corps Assists Hard-Hit Delta Residents


August 20, 2008

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    Jacqueline M. Koch for Merlin/Mercy Corps  </span>
    With the iconic Swe Dagon looming in the background, crews clean up broken trees and debris left in Yangon in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on May 2, 2008. Photo: Jacqueline M. Koch for Merlin/Mercy Corps

In Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, Mercy Corps emergency responders are bringing relief and beginning recovery efforts throughout Laputta Township, where early evidence suggests that 80,000 of the 350,000 residents died in the storm.

We are working with the UK-based humanitarian organization Merlin, a medical aid agency, to expand its water and sanitation projects and to restart economic activity in Laputta by paying residents to clean up flood-damaged villages and replant rice paddies.

Our Village Rehabilitation Program has paid more than 1,000 cyclone survivors to perform clean-up work such as repairing embankments, rebuilding irrigation canals, clearing walkways, and desalinating fields. These projects provide local people with wages they can spend on necessary items for their families. So far, the program has infused more than $30,000 cash into the local economy.

"Getting people working again, even if it's just temporary, really helps with their healing," says Michael Gabriel, who manages Mercy Corps programs in Myanmar. "It's hard to measure just how much it helps, but it gets people moving again, and it makes the place look better — back to normal almost — so people can start to move on."

Workers employed by the rehabilitation project have unblocked drains, cleared debris, constructed footbridges, reconstructed roads, erected latrines and a temporary childcare center and built footpaths using woodchips chopped from fallen trees.

Replanting rice paddies in time to salvage this year's harvest is a critical goal. Farming represents approximately 80 percent of the local economy. So far, Mercy Corps and Merlin have distributed 100 metric tons of rice seeds to farmers in 25 villages, as well as 45 mechanical tillers to prepare the land for planting. Traditionally, buffaloes have been used to plow the fields; since most of the animals were lost in the storm, the villagers must have an alternative way to sow crops.

Our water and sanitation projects are restoring clean drinking water and reducing health risks to thousands of villagers and residents of area displacement camps. Together with Merlin, we continue to distribute water filters to households and help villagers clean ponds and wells and build latrines, hand-washing facilities, and water-catchment systems.

Mercy Corps chose to support Merlin because it has years of experience delivering expert, high-quality health care in Myanmar through training and supporting local communities and health workers. Mercy Corps' relationship with Merlin has resulted in more communities receiving a broader range of emergency assistance.