(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Water worries surface after Cyclone Giri

In Myanmar, the dry season comes in March and April rendering some people uneasy about what they will do to have enough good clean water. The clean water pond in the photo is shared by the cyclone affected communities – originally it was for one, but th
Stacey M Winston/ECHO

Aid workers are worried about possible water contamination after Cyclone Giri swamped the western coast of Myanmar on 22 October, affecting an estimated 200,000 people.

"Ponds may be contaminated by salinated water - but this needs to be confirmed," Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar, who visited the affected area, told IRIN on 1 November from Yangon.

Throughout much of rural Myanmar, communal ponds are a main source of fresh water, but after a heavy weather system such as Giri there is a chance flooding and debris could render the water undrinkable.

However, according to Terence Kadoe, a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) officer for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Myanmar, most of the ponds along Giri's trail are in high land areas compared with the low-lying ponds contaminated by Cyclone Nargis which devastated Myanmar's Ayerwady Delta in 2008, leaving more than 140,000 dead and affecting two million.

According to the most recent OCHA situation report, water and sanitation needs arising from the destruction of water sources are among the most urgent, along with food and shelter.

Cyclone Giri Damage as of 29 October
45 people dead
70,975 homeless, 15,000 houses were destroyed
7,081 hectares of agricultural land destroyed
279 primary schools, 24 middle schools and 15 high schools damaged or destroyed
Source: OCHA

National staff mobilized in the first response efforts after the cyclone hit used methods honed in the days and months after Cyclone Nargis, aid workers said.

"Good lessons have been learned from Cyclone Nargis ... as evidenced by the advance deployments, evacuations from high-risk areas and distribution of relief to affected villages," Bishow Parajuli, UN resident coordinator in Myanmar, said after Giri.

But aid officials are projecting that a need for expertise in water and sanitation could require international assistance.

"We have full confidence in the ability of our national staff," Delbreuve said. "But we are advocating for international staff to complement the experience of the national staff."

Delbreuve added that the government had been notified of donors' desires to send not only monetary, but also technical help.

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