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Food shortages "significant"

A family in cyclone-affected Pyapon. Three months after the disaster and unable to afford school costs, some families are considering to take their children out of school.
(Lynn Maung/IRIN)

Three months after Cyclone Nargis hit southern Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of people are still not back on their feet.

"The situation in Myanmar remains dire," Chris Kaye, World Food Programme (WFP) country director, said. "The vast majority of families simply don't have enough to eat."

According to the recent Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA), 42 percent of all food stocks were destroyed and 55 percent of families only had stocks for one day or less.

Moreover, 924,000 people will need food assistance until the November harvest this year, while around 300,000 will need relief until April 2009.

In June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that about 200,000 hectares, or 16 percent, of the delta's total 1.36 million hectares of agricultural land had been severely damaged in the cyclone and would "not be available for planting this season".

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Despite recent efforts to assist local farmers replant their next paddy crops by end-July, many failed. More than 12 weeks after the cyclone hit, leaving 140,000 people dead or missing, many farmers continue to lack the necessary tools or machinery to till the soil after the loss of thousands of plough animals.

In mid-July, just as the planting season was coming to a close, the FAO reported that upwards of 75 percent of farmers in the area lacked sufficient seeds.

The government claims 80,000 hectares of paddy fields were not planted in time, while others estimate that 25 percent of farmers were not able to plant at all.

But even for those who were able to plant, questions remain as to the quality of seeds, as well as their access to fertilisers, casting doubt on the likelihood of a successful harvest.

One farmer from Bogale, at the southern tip of the delta, told IRIN he was sure his paddy crop would fail or yield badly, but hoped, with help from international donors, that his family of six would not starve.

Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
Thousands of small-scale fishing boats are being built by the government

Fishermen still lack nets

According to the FAO, almost 18,000 fishermen lost their lives in the cyclone, with another 10,000 still missing. More than 21,000 hectares of aquaculture ponds were destroyed and more than 2,000 larger mechanised fishing boats lost.

Moreover, tens of thousands of non-mechanised boats, accounting for the livelihoods of thousands of families in the affected area, are believed to have been lost.

Since small-scale fishing is the mainstay activity for so many cyclone survivors - providing the main source of diet and household income - many storm-affected families have found it virtually impossible to continue.

The government plans to sell 9,000 boats by installment, of which 3,000 have so far been completed.

Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
A teacher holds lessons in a makeshift classroom in the village of Tazin Ngu in cyclone-affected Bogale

Difficult choices

With 89 percent of PONJA respondents describing food as their highest priority expenditure, many now find themselves having to make particularly difficult decisions.

"I always wanted them to be educated," one 47-year-old woman from Pyapon at the southeast part of the delta, one of the worst-hit areas, told IRIN about her three children. "But now I'm thinking of sending them out to work to help out instead."

Food assistance from donors and the government notwithstanding, many survivors complain they simply cannot get by on what they receive and are concerned about where their next meal will come from.

Others still find themselves forced to borrow money from local money lenders, increasingly placing them in debt from which they may never recover.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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