Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Myanmar: Three years later, still no shelter

BANGKOK, 3 May 2011 (IRIN) Three years after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, thousands still need shelter assistance, officials and aid workers say.

"This is an area where there are still huge needs," Arne Jan Flolo, first secretary of the Norwegian Embassy, which has been a major supporter of the ongoing shelter effort in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta since 2008, told IRIN in Bangkok.

The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) estimates some 375,000 people (75,000 households) need housing across the south, 36 months after the worst natural disaster to strike the Southeast Asian nation.

"Yes, there has been progress, but there is no denying we need to do more," Chris Bleers, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), added. The council has assisted in the construction and strengthening of more than 6,000 shelters in Myanmar's badly affected Labutta Township.

A recent survey by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) reported that at least 62 percent of households in the delta still live in shelters that are not disaster resistant.

Massive needs

According to the government, more than 750,000 homes were badly affected by Nargis, which swept across the low-lying delta and parts of Yangon Division on 2 and 3 May 2008, killing more than 138,000 people, destroying 360,246 homes and damaging another 390,053.

But despite the enormity of the disaster, shelter was never given the priority it deserved from donors, say aid workers.

"The response of the international community was definitely not commensurate with the scale of the need," Bleers said.

"I don't know why more people have not stepped up. It simply doesn't make sense," said Olive Orate, project coordinator for the delta with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), one of just four agencies still working on shelter in the delta. It will likely wrap up operations by end-2011.

To date, ADRA has constructed 240 shelters in Labutta and would like to do more, but lack of financial resources is preventing it from doing so.

"Of course we want to do more. We simply can't," Orate said, noting the government had allocated two sites of land about 3km inland in Labutta where more than 1,000 units could be constructed, but did not have the resources to do so.

"There are still a lot of people along the shoreline who are living in almost temporary shelters," Orate said.

Slow response

Under the Post Nargis Recovery Plan (PONREPP), of the US$173.6 million recommended for shelter recovery, just $30 million has been received, making it the least funded sector of all.

As a result, mainly female-headed households, households of elderly people without family support, as well as the disabled have been prioritized for assistance.

"Those families not falling into these categories are left to rebuild on their own based on the very dubious assumption that they can recover their livelihoods sufficiently to be able to do so," Srinivasa Popuri, UN-HABITAT country programme manager, explained.

In fact, just 175,000 households have received any kind of assistance from the UN, government or NGOs, including 65,000 fully constructed units, with the rest receiving repair assistance in the range of $80 to $120 per family.

According to UN-HABITAT, more funding is needed for the shelter sector, with the minimum cost of a disaster-resilient shelter about $600. A $300 shelter lasts for two monsoon seasons, one costing $600 for seven to nine years and a $1,000 shelter for 10 to 12 years.

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