As Myanmar looks toward a new era of development, building resilient livelihoods for disaster-affected communities must be prioritized.
Davina Wadley is a consultant and former Refugees International fellow who recently traveled to Myanmar with RI to visit flood and cyclone affected villages in Rakhine State, Saigang Region, and Chin State.
During the annual May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences low-level flooding, which creates favourable conditions for rice cultivation, Myanmar’s leading crop. However, in July 2015, heavier than normal downpours combined with the arrival of Cyclone Komen created unprecedented flash floods, general flooding, and landslides, a national disaster that affected 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. An estimated 1.6 million people were displaced and more than 20 percent of Myanmar’s cultivated land was damaged. Refugees International’s December 2015 report on the disaster found that despite the strong outpouring of emergency aid – especially from local organizations and the Myanmar public – the extensive flood damage to agriculture required urgent attention, given that affected communities rely on farming for their food and income.
In September, Refugees International returned to some of the hardest hit areas in Rakhine State, Sagaing Region, and Chin State to see how communities were recovering a year after the flooding.
Local and international donors have provided much needed assistance over the last 12 months in terms of meeting some of the basic food, sanitation, and shelter needs of affected households. However, based on interviews with affected villagers, RI remains deeply concerned regarding the minimal support for the restoration of villagers’ livelihoods. The risk is that without targeted investment to allow the most vulnerable communities to recover their livelihoods and assets, they’ll remain dependent on aid or resort to negative coping strategies such as withdrawing children from school, crisis migration, and/or indebtedness.
As the newly elected government gets on its feet and looks toward increased foreign investment and development, the recovery needs of flood-affected communities – and the need to enhance their resilience to future disasters – must not be overlooked.
As the newly elected government gets on its feet and looks toward increased foreign investment and development, the recovery needs of flood-affected communities – and the need to enhance their resilience to future disasters – must not be overlooked. Any investment in livelihood programming, whether focused on restoring agricultural land or creating new livelihood opportunities, should be driven by the needs and concerns of affected communities to ensure that such measures are effective and sustainable in the long term.
Below are a number stories from some of the poor rural communities we visited who a year later, are still struggling to recover from the disaster.
*All of the names of interviewees listed have been changed.