Myanmar Emergency: Reports from the Ground

ACF's ongoing assessments indicate that humanitarian needs are critical

Cyclone Nargis, which struck southern Myanmar on May 2nd, has had a devastating effect on the country. Estimates suggest that more than 32,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been affected by the catastrophe. According to Action Against Hunger’s teams on the ground, the need for water, food and shelter will be most urgent in the coastal regions. Needs are also immense in Yangon where the population is facing a major surge in the price of basic foodstuffs.

With phone lines down, roads blocked, electricity networks destroyed and many areas in complete isolation, it is very difficult for aid agencies to gain access to those affected. According to Action Against Hunger’s teams on the ground, thousands of survivors are in urgent need of shelter, water, and food.

Yangon: Price of Water Jumps 500% in Three Days

Yangon is the most populated area of the country. The lack of water and the threat of food shortages in the region have led to a dramatic increase in the price of basic foodstuffs. “The price of rice and oil increased by 60% in just three days and the price of water increased by 500%,” says Felix Leger, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Myanmar. “Electricity pylons and homes have been destroyed or damaged, and people are queuing for water.”

The rise in prices comes at a time when the current global food crisis is already having a significant impact on the country. This increase in prices has highlighted the significance of the lack of drinking water and the pressure on food security in Yangon, especially as the cyclone has destroyed a region known as the "granary of the country." Action Against Hunger's teams are also assessing the immediate needs in the Yangon area.

Southern Myanmar: Critical Need for Drinking Water in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta

Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy delta region was hit hardest by cyclone Nargis. The delta is criss-crossed by a vast network of streams and mangrove swamps and is home to more than 8 million people. Current estimates suggest that a minumum of 80% of all towns and villages in the delta have been destroyed. “While the full toll and extent of the devastation is not yet known, a cyclone of this severity will most certainly have contaminated water points, leading to a lack of drinking water and a serious risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea,” says Felix Leger.

Even before the current catastrophe, Action Against Hunger's field surveys found that 68% of people living in the region drank water from swamps and streams as well as unprotected water points, and 80% of all water points in the region were found inadequate - in both water quality and in their structural integrity if faced with natural disasters cyclone Nargis. Wtih the absolute destruction wrought by cyclone Nargis, the risk of water-borne diseases has become acute.

“The delta region is known as the country’s granary and the cyclone has hit before the harvest,” continues Felix Leger. If the region's harvests have indeed been destroyed, the impact would be even more devastating for the populations and additional humanitarian assistance will be needed to ensure food security in Myanmar.

Access to the delta region has always been difficult due to poor transport infrastructure and few all-season roads, with travel between villages often conducted by boat. Despite these constraints, Action Against Hunger's teams in Myanmar are continuing their on-the-ground assessments and preparing the following emergency interventions:

  • Distributions of water purifying tablets
  • Distribution of emergency supplies of clean water
  • Rehabilitation and protection of water points
  • Distributions of essential non-food items (e.g., cooking and hygiene kits) and emergency shelters
  • Basic hygiene promotion
  • Environmental clearing and clean up
  • Provisions of food, cash and/or vouchers depending on local market accessibility

Action Against Hunger has worked in Myanmar since 1994 and currently intervenes in Rakhine and Kayah states through nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene activities, and food security programs. A team of 21 international staff and more than 300 national staff are currently mobilized.