Last week I attended a meeting organised by the Australia-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce about the progress of international flood relief efforts. Representatives from the Australian Embassy in Myanmar and various international NGOs spoke about their work, and also of the immensity of the relief effort. The statistics are mind boggling: 2.5 million people were left critically affected; 385,000 households have been destroyed; at least 117 people have lost their lives. Beyond the human impacts, 972,000 acres of farm land, 36,000 acres of fish and shrimp ponds, and nearly 20,000 head of cattle have been decimated.
Relief efforts are slowly starting to make a difference. As of the end of August US$24 million had been donated by the international community to aid the recovery, and the Myanmar government has spent a further US$13 million. The UN and its partners have reached some 403,000 people with over 2,400 metric tonnes of life-saving food assistance in Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Mon and Rakhine states. According to UN assessment teams, 97% of flood-affected people have received some form of humanitarian assistance - attesting to the efforts of both community organisations and INGOs.
The speakers from CARE Australia and Save the Children stressed the need to start looking to the next inevitable disaster. Investment in the capacity-building of local organisations around disaster preparedness needs to be a priority. If donations are not well planned, they can go to waste and have unforeseen consequences. For example, huge donations of imported rice following the floods have hurt local producers and distorted the economy. Hundreds of tonnes of supplies are rotting in government warehouses as there are no supply chains to effectively distribute the rice to the affected regions.
For the millions living in the flood zones, the lingering rainy season has not brought respite. In Rakhine State, already beset by civil war and ethnic unrest, mud left behind by the floods has dried rock-hard and made it impossible for farmers to sow their seeds before the dry season - bringing likely food shortages and financial ruin. Above Rakhine in mountainous Chin State, landslides have cut off the capital Hakha and countless small villages from the rest of the country. Snow Wint Yee, who runs a small emergency relief organisation, told The Angus McDonald Trust: “It took my volunteer team three days to reach Hakha from Yangon. They had to carry their equipment for 20 miles when their car could go no more.”
Local organisations, such as Snow's, hold the key to the flood recovery. They can access areas that INGOs simply cannot reach for political or logistical reasons, and they will be at the frontline of the next emergency. Look out for a blog post coming soon about our fantastic Burmese Nights fundraising event held last week in London, raising funds for flood victims in Myanmar!