Myanmar: food distributions continue

More than two weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar. WFP continues to make progress and has now dispatched enough food to feed over 250,000 people in the affected areas.

More than two weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar. WFP continues to make progress in reaching victims and has now dispatched enough food to feed over 250,000 people in the affected areas.

However, WFP field staff continue to report of finding entire communities with every building destroyed and survivors living without any outside assistance. Food, drinking water and shelter remain immediate necessities.

Logistics

Three additional aid flights organised by WFP have landed in Myanmar’s main city, Yangon. The first flight carried water, sanitation equipment and medical supplies from the German government; the second flight - from the Swiss government - contained food and other relief materials; and a third -from the UK government - contained plastic sheeting. Further flights are expected in the coming days.

Persistent rainy conditions are hampering the off-loading of planes at the airport and making road access in some areas extremely difficult. There is also an urgent need for cargo handling equipment to accelerate the off-loading of aircraft. A key limitation on flights in Yangon is that there is no refuelling capacity at the airport, making the proposed air bridge from Bangkok of even greater importance to the relief efforts.

Reports from Myanmar indicate that as many as 90 percent of boats in the affected area may have been destroyed by the cyclone. WFP has contracted several boats from the outside for the delivery of food assistance and has also requested clearance from the Myanmar Civil Aviation Authority for one helicopter, which will be used for the delivery of food in isolated areas.

Two temporary warehouses have been constructed in Labutta for both food and essential non-food items, open to use for humanitarian agencies on the ground. An additional four warehouses will be set up in Labutta. Additionally, WFP is also working on contracting warehouse space in the industrial area of Yangon near the airport with the intention of bringing in enough ready-to-eat meals (composed mainly of rice and beans) for 7,000 people. These will be prioritized for the areas most acutely affected by the cyclone where cooking is difficult or impossible.

Procurement

WFP has purchased enough rice inside Myanmar to feed over 1.5 million people with a two-week ration of rice (8,500 tons). A further 1,050 tons of beans have also been purchased. This local purchase is allowing WFP to move food as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible to those who need it most.

Visas and staff

WFP has now received 17 visas for international staff since the cyclone struck and currently has 24 staff deployed to the worst-affected areas of the Delta.

WFP has established two sub-offices in the Ayeyarwady Delta region - in Labutta and Bogale -and has relocated national staff members from the north to the affected areas in the south to step up its response capacity. A logistics hub is being set up in Pyapon and another hub may be established in Pathein.

WFP's Emergency Operation in Myanmar

WFP’s Emergency Operation for Myanmar with a budget of US$69.5 million will deliver a complete food basket to a total of 750,000 people in need of immediate food assistance following Cyclone Nargis, which left hundreds of thousands stranded and without food, water or shelter.

The daily ration will meet a minimum daily requirement of 2,100 kilocalories, composed of rice, pulses, vegetable oil, and salt. Ready-to-eat food (e.g. high energy biscuits, rice-lentil mix and supplementary foods for young children) will be distributed in the initial weeks to support people without access to cooking facilities. WFP is setting up a distribution system with other UN and NGO cooperating partners. There is also a plan to distribute cash on a limited basis to cyclone victims for food purchase in urban areas where food markets are functioning.

So far, WFP's operation has received US$8.5 million in confirmed contributions, including over US$5 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). This is in addition to contributions from Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Australia, Italy and private donors. Further significant donations are expected to be confirmed in the coming days.

Background

Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on 2 and 3 May 2008, sweeping through the Ayeyarwady delta region and Yangon. Forty townships in the Yangon division and seven townships in Ayeyarwady division remain on the government’s list of disaster areas.

The Ayeyarwady delta, which bore the brunt of the storm, is known as the country’s granary and has an extensive fishery industry along its coast. Much of the recent harvest was already complete, but rice stored for household consumption has most likely been lost in the most affected areas. The loss of crops, shrimp farms, fishing ponds, nursery hatcheries, fishing boats and other productive assets has led to increased unemployment of the extreme poor who depend on wage labour for their livelihood. These numbers are expected to rise further as assessment teams gain access to the most affected areas.

Once one of the largest rice exporters in Asia, Myanmar currently faces difficulties in providing adequate food to poor and vulnerable families. Despite being a food-surplus country, one-third of children remain malnourished; one-fifth are born underweight. High chronic malnutrition rates indicate a worsening of the food security situation due to insufficient nutritious food, poor access to health facilities, inadequate water and sanitation facilities, poor maternal and child care and limited livelihood opportunities. In the 2007/08 UNDP Human Development Index, Myanmar is placed 132nd out of 177 countries.