Nargis: What Happened And How WFP Responded

Cyclone Nargis swept across southern Myanmar on the evening of 2 May, leaving a trail of death and destruction before tapering off the next day. The winds and tidal surge caused by the cyclone damaged much of the fertile Ayeyarwady delta, and Yangon, the nation's main city and former capital.

BANGKOK -- Whole villages were washed away and more than 140,000 people perished in the first 48 hours.  More than 2.4 million people were left without homes, food or livelihoods by the cyclone.  

WFP brought in enough food in the following weeks and months after the storm to begin a massive feeding operation that eventually reached more than one million persons in need of food assistance through the end of 2008. Listen to interview with Chris Kaye, WFP's representative in Myanmar

WFP Staff sitting on a canoe

The Ayeyarwady delta, which bore the brunt of the storm, includes vast agricultural fields and paddies and had (before the cyclone) an extensive fishery industry along its coast.

The loss of crops, shrimp farms, fishing ponds, nursery hatcheries, fishing boats and other productive assets has led to increased unemployment and exacerbated the conditions of Myanmar’s extreme poor who are dependent on wage labor for their survival. 

WFP into action

Immediately following the cyclone, WFP logistics teams rushed to meet the enormous challenge of bringing in disaster relief supplies, equipment and prepared foods to the populated areas badly hit by the cyclone, many of which were isolated and flooded, and only accessible by boat.  Teaming up with other international and UN agencies, WFP lead the way in securing the Government of Myanmar’s permission to gain international access to the country and coordinate much-needed relief efforts – actions that helped prevent further loss of life from disease and exposure in the weeks following the storm.

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheerantalking to a woman in MynamarDuring a visit to Myanmar in June 2008, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran saw first hand-the extensive suffering caused by the cylone’s damage in and around Yangon, and called for a redoubling of international efforts to assist the people of Myanmar, urging the completion of “a seamless global lifeline of relief supplies.”

Through the rest of 2008 and into 2009, WFP has used a combination of helicopters, trucks and barges to deliver food assistance to more than one million people at the height of the massive operation, delivering rice, beans, vegetable oil, salt, ready-to-eat meals, and high-energy biscuits  to survivors and vulnerable people in the Ayeyarwady delta and in the low lying but highly populated areas around Yangon.



  • Food aid delivered to over 1 million people 
  • Over 70,000 tons of food delivered
  • Over 1,000 tons of fortified Blended Food provided to 57,000 pregnant and lactating women and children
  • 76,000 people supported through Food-for-Work activities.
  • 112 kilometres of foot paths and 30 kilometres of dykes constructed, and 18 ponds renovated (since Jan 09)