Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Survivors Living in `Dire Conditions,' UN Says

By Paul Tighe

(Bloomberg) -- Villagers in areas of Myanmar's Irrawaddy River Delta are living in ``dire conditions'' three months after Tropical Cyclone Nargis devastated the southern region, the United Nations said.

``We have seen significant progress being made in the affected areas,'' Daniel Baker, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said yesterday, according to the UN. ``Much more urgently needs to be done in remote areas where affected communities are still living in dire conditions.''

Food will need to be supplied to about 924,000 people ``on a systematic basis'' for the next nine months, the UN said. Assistance to isolated villages in the delta ``remains a challenge,'' it said.

Nargis struck the delta, Myanmar's main rice-producing region, May 2-3, causing a tidal surge that left more than 138,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million requiring assistance. The country formerly known as Burma needs aid to ensure that farmers are able to plant crops by the end of the season this month, the UN said in July.

The region lost 85 percent of seed stocks and about 50 percent of buffalos as a result of the cyclone, the UN said yesterday. The agriculture industry is the least funded among the UN's aid programs and requires emergency support of about $51 million, it said.

Damaged Houses

Relief workers have provided shelter materials for about half of an estimated 488,000 houses damaged in the storm.

``Aid workers now have access to cyclone-affected areas,'' Baker said, adding that recovery work is being boosted by cooperation between Myanmar's military government, the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member group that includes Myanmar.

International aid was slow to reach survivors because Myanmar's military, which has ruled the country since 1962, delayed permission for relief workers to visit the delta until about three weeks after the cyclone struck.

More than 780,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) of rice paddy fields were flooded, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said last month. Livestock, fishing, agriculture and forestry-based industries need to be restored, it said.

The junta has set an exchange rate that has cost the UN about $10 million in cyclone relief funds, John Holmes, the emergency relief coordinator, said last week.

UN agencies have to buy foreign exchange certificates issued by the government which are then used to purchase local currency. The UN has made losses of as much as 25 percent when converting the certificates into cash, said Holmes, who visited the country last month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at

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