Myanmar: Nutrition Assessment Points to Looming Crisis in Bogalay

Assessments show resources too scarce to satisfy basic needs

While continuing to distribute aid supplies to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, Action Against Hunger/ ACF-USA teams in Myanmar have also carried out a needs assessment in the Bogalay region, one of the worst hit areas. The survey, which was carried out last week, found that the situation in the Bogalay district is extremely alarming, both in the immediate and medium term.

As international humanitarian agency Action Against Hunger continues to send convoys of relief supplies to distribute to the survivors, its teams on the ground are increasingly concerned about the scale of the needs in the affected areas, the small number of humanitarian actors on the ground and the rapid deterioration of the situation. 400,000 people are living in the Bogalay district alone. ACF is one of the few aid agencies implementing relief programs in this district.

Preliminary Results of Needs Assessment

Nutrition and Food Security

  • The main priority of all survivors participating in the survey is food: all day long, people are looking for food and for a way of cooking the food they find. For over 15 days, the survivors have mainly been feeding themselves with wild fruits and vegetables and moldy rice. With rice spoiling in the dampness, many are trying to dry the rice to prevent it from growing more moldy.
  • The price of rice has quadrupled since the cyclone struck the country (a bag now costs 60,000 Kyat / 60 dollars)
  • 72% of people surveyed only eat two meals per day, in contrast to three meals per day before the cyclone.
  • 86% of people surveyed eat damaged rice and eat half the quantity they used to eat per meal.
  • One week after the Cyclone struck, people already said that they were starving.
  • In view of this situation, survivors are adapting coping mechanisms which can further deteriorate their situation in the near future such as taking very high loans and selling the few belongings they still have.
  • The economy has been destroyed: most fishermen have lost all their fishing equipment (boats, fishing nets..) and farmers have lost their seeds, tools and buffalos.
  • Families and traders lost most of their food reserves. In summary, ACF’s teams fear that a nutritional crisis is looming, especially considering the difficulties facing aid agencies in bringing large quantities of relief supplies to the survivors.

Water and Sanitation

  • 75% of survivors collect water from ponds which have been contaminated with salt, debris, animal cadavers and dead bodies, especially in the rural areas.
  • 95% of latrines have been destroyed, leading to fecal contamination of water sources.
  • Most survivors lost everything including containers which they used to collect and store water. They can therefore not collect rain water which would be more suitable for drinking than the contaminated water from the ponds.
  • Cases of diarrhea are being reported to ACF teams on the ground and the number of cases risks increasing. There is a high risk of malaria and pneumonia if access to sanitation and basic care is not quickly restored. 23% of people surveyed say that they are sick. Water-related disease can quickly lead to malnutrition.

Despite Constraints, Aid Is Reaching Survivors

Logistics remain a major challenge, even more so now that the monsoon rains have arrived. The few bridges that were still passable can no longer be crossed, which means that it is impossible to reach survivors via roads. ACF teams are using two boats which can carry 20 to 25 tons of cargo each. These two boats are transporting relief supplies from Yangon to Bogalay and allow for greater access to the most isolated areas. Tens of tons of rice, water, water purification tablets and emergency kits have thus been distributed to the survivors and continue to be distributed.

As Richard Poncet, a water engineer with ACF in Myanmar explains:

"My main concern is safe drinking water and our first priority is to enable households to store water. Survivors are mainly using surface water as drinking water, which increases the risk of diarrheal diseases. With the beginning of the rainy season, it is important to collect the rain water. We are distributing plastic sheetings that can be used as temporary roofs and others that can be folded up and be used as a container to collect the rain water. Yet ACF’s programs not only concentrate on improving access to water. A hungry person does not care about the water he/she drink. His/her priority is to have something to eat. And a sick person might be too weak to worry about what he/she is eating or drinking. People, especially when sick, must eat a balanced diet and drink safe water. We therefore have to provide all our relief supplies as quickly as possible."

Thanks to the support of the ‘Delegation a l’Action Humanitaire’, ACF sent a first charter plane to Myanmar. Another plane carrying 12 tons of containers, jerry cans, water purification kits was sent thanks to the support of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Both cargos were unloaded in Yangon and are on their way to Bogalay. ACF is able to continue providing urgent relief to the survivors in the Delta. However, these supplies are still largely insufficient to respond to the scale of the needs.