(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Nargis now a development issue, says Yangon

A woman smiles to the camera in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta
Stacey Winston/ECHO

Myanmar's government surprised the international aid community this week by ending centralized coordination of the response to Cyclone Nargis, which in 2008 devastated the Delta region, leaving tens of thousands of families without adequate shelter two years later.

The government inherited its coordination role from the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) at the end of July.

On 16 August, Myanmar's Ministry of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement (MoSWRR) told international NGOs and UN agencies that the post-Nargis Delta recovery should be "mainstreamed into development activities, and the responsibility of coordinating those activities will therefore no longer fall to the MoSWRR, but the respective line ministries, and will therefore require new memorandums of understanding."

The Ministry of Social Welfare will continue in its traditional role as line ministry for disaster risk reduction activities.

The ministry furthermore announced that no Nargis-related visas would be extended, and no new visas would be granted under the old arrangement, which allowed humanitarian aid workers fairly easy access to the affected areas to support post-Nargis recovery efforts. More than 90 humanitarian workers with international NGOs or UN agencies now have an uncertain visa status.

"It comes as a surprise, but we are appealing for an interim period with extensions of agreements and visas, during which the agencies can apply for their new memorandums of understanding," Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, told IRIN.

"With the election period coming up, we know everyone will be very busy, so we are concerned that it might take too long to get new memorandums of understanding, and assistance might be interrupted, which would have negative consequences for the people in need of continued assistance," Parajuli said.

Recent assessments conducted in the delta, including Periodic Review 4 and Social Impacts Monitoring 3, concluded that some areas of Labutta and Bogale are still in an emergency state, more than two years after Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008.

"There is still a great need for assistance in the Delta, and the ministry made it clear that they welcomed continued assistance at the meeting. We had very good cooperation with the MoSWRR and TCG, people were benefitting, and it is possible to deliver aid effectively in Myanmar," Parajuli said.

On 18 June, at the Third Recovery Forum held in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, the humanitarian community was assured by ministries present that recovery would continue beyond the TCG, suggesting that the decision was made by more senior members of the government.

The Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PoNREPP), recovery plan approved by the government, is a three-year programme that has reached its halfway mark.

Cyclone Nargis claimed more than 138,000 lives and affected 2.4 million people, leaving nearly half needing assistance.

The TCG's mandate, whose duration was stipulated by the government, ended on 31 July. The TCG - comprising the government, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - was established after Nargis to facilitate access to the country's Ayeyarwady Delta, assess the needs, and develop a recovery plan.


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