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May 14, 2008 - Myanmar

Appeal for Aid for Cyclone Nargis Victims

Myanmar’s disaster from Cyclone Nargis is unprecedented; never before in the country’s  recent history has there been a natural disaster of this magnitude.  It is a disaster of international proportions. People living in the populous Irrawaddy Delta have lived on the periphery of cyclones where they have typically hit Bangladesh or been localized in the Bay of Bengal.  People and villages in Myanmar, including the city of Yangon, have never been in the direct path of a cyclone until Nargis.  The country was caught totally unaware and unprepared.

The cyclone cut a huge swath of destruction about 50 miles wide across 200 miles in Lower Myanmar, killing an estimated more than 200,000 people and thousands of animals, while destroying homes, crops and property.  Entire villages were washed away by 12 foot waves and violent winds. Families lost many members, especially small children and the elderly who could not cling to trees for survival. Over a million people are estimated to be homeless.  These numbers of deaths and homeless are preliminary estimates and may go much higher.  For example, the township of Bogalay alone had a population of over 425,000 people; the majority of villages in this southern tip of the Delta were washed away.

The effects of the disaster are only now emerging as reports come in from remote areas of the Delta as thousands of refugees seek shelter in towns further north. A week after the cyclone hit, a mere trickle of aid is getting to the affected areas. Disease, hunger and thirst are claiming more victims as the days go by.

The cyclone has hit against a backdrop of growing and entrenched vulnerability and food insecurity among hundreds of thousands of rural families in Myanmar. Farming has been the most important means of livelihood for over 70 percent of Myanmar’s population. Many of the rural poor are also landless families who work as casual laborers on farms; they earn less than $1 a day and their employment is only seasonal.

The Irrawaddy Delta, with its high population density is considered the “rice bowl” of the country.  However, growing population, decreasing farm size, diminishing soil fertility, high costs of imports such as fertilizer and low crop prices have meant farm families had little cushion before the cyclone.  For many families, life was already very harsh and insecure. Such families have little resilience or resources for recovery. 

Without seeds, draft animals and fertilizer, families are also worrying whether they will be able to continue farming at all when the monsoon cropping season begins in June and July.

The emergency, recovery and rehabilitation phases over the next six months will require significant resources. USD 1 million will help 3 million people who have lost everything. Please help us to help!

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