A UN specialist has called for the building of cyclone shelters in southern Myanmar ahead of the next monsoon, expected in about five months’ time.
“Multi-purpose cyclone shelters should be built before the monsoon season comes to disaster-prone areas in order to reduce the risk of future disasters,” Dillip Kumar Bhanja, disaster risk reduction specialist for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Myanmar, told IRIN in Yangon, the former Burmese capital.
“Tens of thousands of people died because they didn’t have access to cyclone shelters,” he said.
Almost eight months after a devastating cyclone slammed into southern Myanmar, survivors still do not have the cyclone shelters they need.
Cyclone Nargis left close to 140,000 people dead or missing and affected another 2.4 million when it hit Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady and Yangon divisions on 2-3 May.
Of the 11 severe tropical cyclones to have struck Myanmar over the past 60 years, two made landfall in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta. The area was also affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed more than 60 lives and left over 2,000 homeless along the coast.
In response the UN, in collaboration with its partners on the ground, plans to build a number of multi-purpose cyclone shelters along the coast in 2009.
“We’re in the process of assessing the existing designs and identifying villages in the delta for construction of the multi-purpose community buildings,” Dillip confirmed, adding, however, that the number had yet to be determined.
According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report - viewed by many as a blueprint for humanitarian response in the area - the need for disaster shelters in the area against cyclones, tsunamis and other catastrophic events was great.
Eight months after Cyclone Nargis, survivors like this one say they feel unsafe in their makeshift huts when the winds blow
Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
Eight months on, cyclone survivors such as this one say they feel unsafe in their makeshift huts when the wind blows
Where appropriate, the shelters should be multi-purpose buildings (e.g. education facilities) with reinforced walls and iron shutters, connected to livestock shelters, with adequate water, sanitation facilities and survival supplies for use after such disasters.
These shelters should also be connected with communication networks for the delivery of relief supplies during a disaster, and/or speedy evacuation, the report said.
To date, fewer than six cyclone shelters in the townships of Yangon and Ayeyarwady have been built.
The first purpose-built school, a one-storey school-cum-cyclone shelter, was completed in early November. The 223 square metre school is custom-designed to resist tropical storms and earthquakes, as well as accommodate over 350 people in a disaster, according to Than Myint, president of the Myanmar Engineering Society.
Government and humanitarian agencies are also planning to establish multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the worst-hit areas of Yangon and Ayeyarwady divisions, with plans to build over a dozen multi-purpose shelters in Bogale, Labutta, Pinzalu, Dedaye and Kunchangone townships in early 2009.
Such facilities will have the capacity to accommodate 500-1,500 people, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Meanwhile, a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official said they would build seven quake and storm-resistant schools in cyclone-hit regions.
Time running out
But experts fear that completion of many of these shelters will not be possible before the start of the next cyclone season in late April, early May.
“We have different kinds of challenges, such as funding and logistics,” said one NGO official.
Most villages in the badly affected Ayeyarwady Delta are only reachable by a myriad of inland waterways, using small boats.
During the dry season, as streams become shallower, boats laden with construction material would find it difficult to enter.
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