(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Early warning system needed for fishermen

The wife of a fisherman, this woman is still awaiting news on the fate of her husband who was lost at sea on 14 March 2011 following a storm
Lynn Maung/IRIN

The plight of hundreds of small fishermen lost at sea more than a month ago underscores the need for a more effective weather warning system in Myanmar, officials say.



"There should be an early warning system from which fishermen can get bad weather information in a timely manner," Hnin Oo, vice-president of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF), told IRIN. "The DMH [Department of Meteorology and Hydrology] should be better equipped to disseminate accurate weather forecasts in a timely way."



In the interim, Hnin Oo suggested fishermen carry mobile phones so that sudden bad weather updates could reach them faster.



But at the moment, there is no such early warning system and the country needs better radar equipment, Tun Lwin, the former director-general of DMH, insisted.



Relying largely on radio broadcasts, thousands of fishermen, who traditionally anchor their rafts 40-60km off the coast, stayed at sea on 14 March believing their rafts could withstand the predicted winds.



As the storm strengthened, however, nearly 16,000 fishermen found themselves trapped.



"We heard that the winds would be about 56km per hour, which we believed our bamboo rafts could resist," said Chit San Maung, who lost all 10 bamboo rafts in the strong winds.



"But what we saw was 100-112km strong winds, which destroyed our rafts and swept our fishermen out to sea."



In the storm's aftermath, more than 15,000 fishermen had to be rescued, and more than one month later, 600 are still missing.



Most are from Pyapon Township, one of the worst-hit areas when Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar's southern Ayeyarwady Delta three years ago, hitting the region's vital fishing sector, a major source of livelihoods.



According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the category four storm left thousands of fishermen dead or missing and destroyed half of all small inland fishing boats and 70 percent of fishing gear.



For 20 percent of Nargis-affected households, full-time fishing is the primary source of income, the agency said.



Many of those fishermen were well on their way to recovery, but last month's fishing disaster could well be a severe setback, experts warn.



According to the MFF, the estimated damage to the region's fishing sector could be as much as US$7.8 million.



Meanwhile, for families whose relatives are still lost at sea, the waiting continues.



"I have no idea whether they are still alive or dead," said Than Htike of his father and brother. He himself was lost at sea for three nights and four days without food or water before finally being rescued.



lm/nb/mw

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