(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Urgent need to rebuild livelihoods after Giri

Thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods when Cyclone Giri struck western Myanmar on 22 October, 2010. A flattened home in Rakhine State
Courtesy of UNDP Myanmar

Cyclone Giri has left 86,000 farming households and thousands of casual labourers, who had depended on the now devastated annual harvest, without any hope of cash.

“Right away we need to find ways to help people generate income,” Sanaka Samarasinha, deputy resident representative at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Myanmar, told IRIN.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates Cyclone Giri, a category four tropical storm that hit the country’s western coast on 22 October, destroyed at least 16,187 hectares of rice paddies and damaged another 40,468ha. About 40 to 50 percent of the area is no longer harvestable, Samarasinha said.

Cyclone Giri’s timing is particularly devastating to Rakhine State, which only experiences one harvest a year. The fishing industry has suffered too, but boats and equipment are easier to replace, said Bobby, head of a local NGO, Network Activities Group, who uses only one name.

According to OCHA, 736 boats, 1,211 assorted fishing gear and 17,704ha of aquaculture ponds were destroyed, affecting more than 7,500 fishing households.

“Livelihoods in this country come from agriculture – those areas have to be quickly rehabilitated,” said Shin Imai, FAO representative in Myanmar. “What we can do is prepare for next season’s cultivation and prepare a dry season crop.”

Thanks to early warnings of the cyclone's approach, loss of livestock - mostly chicken, ducks and pigs - was minimized and could be part of the solution, both Samarasinha and Imai said.

“Because the primary source of income is not an option any more, enhancing the existing livestock might be another way of helping to tide people over until the next harvest 12 months from now,” Samarasinha said.

Annual income for the affected people is about US$400 for a family of six and many start the harvest deep in debt from the cost of fertilizer and other agricultural demands, Samarasinha said after a recent visit to the region.

Those on the ground report immediate food and shelter needs are being met – the World Food Programme has distributed rice to 78,000 people and emergency shelter materials are beginning to reach the now estimated 71,000 homeless. But Samarasinha is worried about a long-term solution.

“My concern continues to be that these tarpaulins will not help very much, unless we get the people back on their feet economically in terms of their livelihoods, otherwise they are not going to be able to build their houses,” Samarasinha said.

UNDP estimates $6-7 million is needed to support livelihood rebuilding over the next three months, including reconstruction.

OCHA estimates that 260,000 people have been affected by Giri.


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