Saturday, July 25, 2009

Burma: Gimme Shelter

Daw Thin Thin Kyi and her three children outside their home in Kan Seik, Dedaye Township. Thousands of cyclone survivors like her rebuilt their own homes without any international assistance

Shelter is still one of the most pivotal issues to affect survivors of Cyclone Nargis today, the UN says.

The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) estimates that more than 450,000 people are in dire need of shelter assistance across southern Myanmar, almost 15 months after the worst natural disaster to strike the southeast Asian nation.

"Up to 130,000 families remain exposed and are suffering under severe weather conditions due to a lack of sustainable shelter," Bishow Parajuli, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, confirmed.

More than 700,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, creating what could easily be described as the greatest shelter needs at any one time since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Although emergency shelter relief efforts were well funded - reaching around 95 percent of those affected - early recovery or transitional shelter needs have been sidelined.

An amount of US$150 million was requested for shelter repair and reconstruction under the Post Nargis Recovery Plan (PONREPP) - a three-year recovery strategy running to 2011 - but only US$50 million has been received.

Of the 360,000 homes the government estimates were destroyed outright, the international community and its partners have rebuilt just 24,000, while the government, largely through the private sector in designated areas of the Ayeyarwady Delta, has built another 10,000.

"This is horrifically low," David Evans, UN-HABITAT acting country director, told IRIN, describing the international response to date as less than 7 percent of the actual needs.

"I would expect this to be around 40 to 50 percent at this point," Evans said, estimating the cost of an individual home at about $700.

Building initiative

About 209,000 families have rebuilt their own homes alone over the past year, UN-HABITAT estimates - largely through informal means.

In the tiny village of Kan Seik, a seaside community in Myanmar's badly affected Dedaye Township, dozens of ramshackle homes have been hastily rebuilt from the storm's debris.

Most are flimsy and it is only a matter of time before the winds take them again.

Of Kan Seik's 193 homes, 192 were destroyed by Nargis, leaving residents such as 35-year-old Daw Thin Thin Kyi and her three children no choice but to rebuild with whatever they could find around them.

While on the surface, life in the Twanty Township, just 80km southwest of Yangon, appears to have returned to normal, life at the village level has yet to recover.

About half the homes in the 220 villages that comprise Twanty were destroyed or badly affected.

And while typically a family of five would have lived in an area of 10 sqm before Nargis, many today live in less than half that.

"Most people were unable to rebuild to pre-Nargis levels," Ne Myo, a programme officer for CARE International, said, citing the inevitable financial constraints of rebuilding for this largely landless population.

"There is no work here," said 33-year-old Bibi San, outside her home in Talaot Htaw, a village of just 1,600. Her husband earns barely $1 a day as a casual labourer.

While happy to have put a roof back over her head, she laments the arrival of this year's monsoon rains as well as her rising debt burden. "When it rains, the water pours in. Sometimes the children get ill," the mother of two said.

But Bibi San could also be described as lucky. As part of the self-recovery group - accounting for almost 60 percent of all destroyed homes - at least she is not one of the 450,000 cyclone survivors still unassisted.

"If they could have helped themselves, they would have been part of the self-recovery group, rather than live in the atrocious conditions they live in now," Evans said of this group, some of whom are living with nothing more than a piece of plastic over their heads almost 15 months after the disaster.

"Unfortunately, we know we're not going to get to them and the agencies have no funding," Evans said, noting that it would take a minimum of $50 million to assist them.

More than 140,000 people were killed and another 2.4 million affected by Cyclone Nargis, which swept across southern Myanmar and the Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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