Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar
On May 8, 2008, the U Thant Institute urgently established the “Emergency Myanmar Cyclone Relief Fund” in response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in the Delta Region of Myanmar.
From May 20 to June 1, 2008, one of the members of the Board of Directors, Dr. Tyn Myint-U, visited Myanmar to provide immediate assistance to the cyclone survivors and to make a direct assessment of the disaster situation for a long term assistance program. During the trip the Institute made donations for much needed supplies and food to help sustain the immediate needs of the survivors who were staying at monasteries in 3 towns that they visited. Since then, we have been monitoring and evaluating the situation to determine how to best provide both short and long-term assistance. Because 60 - 65% of the population in the Delta areas depends on rice paddy farming, goods such as rice seeds, fertilizers, tractors and, buffaloes are also needed to restart the villages’ livelihood.
By partnering with an organization inside the country, Mingala Myanmar, the institute donated for fertilizers and power tillers. With the goal of providing assistance that is both effective and sustainable, the Institute has started a new appeal/campaign on September 30, to help farmers restart their lives with the security of a home and a secure means of earning a living. The institute has donated, as of October, 2008, four houses and four buffaloes for four farmers.
Rebuilding Lives After Cyclone Nargis
With the assistance of the UNDP office in Yangon, Myanmar, the U Thant Institute President, Daw Aye Aye Thant and one of the Board of Directors, Dr. Tyn Myint-U, her husband, travelled to three villages, Sus Kyun village, Ma Gu village, and Pyin Boe Gyi village, in February 2009. All these villages are located near the Andaman Sea, close to the heart of the devastation in the Bogalay township. Most of the villagers who have survived have returned. The aftermath of the cyclone was still extremely evident. The devastation left behind by Nargis was beyond comprehension. Each survivor has a very compelling story, and they all vividly recalled the terror of the night when the cyclone hit, and shared the horror, pain and sadness it left in its path. It was evident during the visit that the villagers in these areas were still struggling to rebuild their lives. With forty percent of rice paddies, one third of the fishing infrastructure and almost all of the livestock destroyed, their sources of income and food have been lost. They have no adequate access to clean water and sanitary facilities. Each village has a one room primary school where about 100 students attend classes on a dirt floor with temporary tarpaulin roofing. . Farmers who owned 5to 10 acres of land said they joined together to buy a tractor from officials in Bogalay town by installments over 3 years. The need was enormous. When asked what would be of greatest assistance to them, however, the villagers were unanimous in their desire for a community center that was storm resistant and where they could take shelter in the event of another catastrophic disaster.
While life goes on in these villages, it is with many hardships. The Cyclone Nargis not only caused physical damage, but inflicted immeasurable pain and suffering on the psycho-social wellbeing of the affected populations. Children exhibit symptoms of post traumatic stress – rushing inside at the first sight of a dark cloud or hint of rain. The emotional trauma of the horror of May 2, 2008 also revisits adults every time the wind howls. They expressed their belief that things would never be the same. But they are looking for ways to maintain self-sufficiency. They are longing to bring back the lives they once had, as modest as it was. During the trip the Institute donated money for school supplies in 3 villages.