Thursday, June 10, 2010

Myanmar: Two years after Cyclone Nargis, shelter issues and land rights frustrate resettlement

Two years after Cyclone Nargis devastated the delta region, more than 100,000 families remain without adequate shelter due to a lack of funding and knowledge about land laws, says the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) country manager, Srinivasa Popuri.

The total funding gap for all sectors in the post-Nargis recovery effort, including shelter, is US$150 million, according to the Recovery Coordination Centre responsible for tracking Nargis aid.

Some 67,000 new shelters have been built - 30,000 by the government and 37,000 by the international community - against 752,299 homes affected.

The monsoon rains – which typically begin in mid-May and last for up to four months – make the situation worse, especially for the half-million delta residents belonging to the most vulnerable groups such as the disabled, elderly, or expectant and new mothers.

Scarce funding in the two years following Myanmar’s most devastating natural disaster in recorded history is only a part of the problem.

Moving to illegal land

Land rights have now become a pressing concern for the delta’s internally displaced persons (IDPs). After Nargis, many families never returned to their devastated villages.

“Many of the beneficiaries didn’t want to return to their homes. They felt unsafe in their old villages,” said Norwegian Refugee Council’s Chris Bleers.

They moved instead to higher ground, areas classified by Myanmar law as “agricultural land”. Myanmar land law allows people to settle only on “village land”, and violators face up to six months in prison. Structures built in unlawful areas are destroyed. According to government figures, only 1.39 percent of land in the delta is village land.

But most IDPs have little or no knowledge of the law.

“Land here belongs to the state, and the collective right of use is given to a group or to villagers, depending on how the land is classified. The land is virtually free; you just have to go through the process to gain a certificate for right of use. Information is not readily available, and people don’t know who can help them,” Popuri said.

The total number of landless people in the delta is unknown; while townships record newly arrived families in villages, no comprehensive data exists for the region.

Government assistance

The UN has partnered with U Myint Thein, deputy director of the settlement and land record department at the Ministry of Agriculture, who provides technical support on land laws to local authorities and NGOs, to address the issue. He has met people in several townships in the most affected areas.

“They’re unfamiliar with land laws, and are generally village elders nominated to be leaders. They voice problems, and I suggest solutions,” U Myint Thein told IRIN.

While raising awareness about land laws, U Myint Thein has helped obtain rights for and negotiate the legal resettlement of 3,349 families – almost half the affected people.

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