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Cablegate: Labutta Township: Livelihoods a Top Concern

VZCZCXRO9099
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0532/01 1850922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030922Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7872
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1330
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4862
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8418
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5980
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3879
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1833
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000532

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP AND IO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID SENV PREF TBIO BM PHUM EAGR VM
SUBJECT: LABUTTA TOWNSHIP: LIVELIHOODS A TOP CONCERN

REF: A. RANGOON 455
B. RANGOON 514

1. (SBU) Summary. On June 18 and 20, USAID/OFDA shelter
expert and Poloff traveled to the Irrawaddy Delta region to
assess recovery efforts. Six weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit,
most people had sufficient shelter, either rebuilt from
indigenous materials or plastic sheeting or living in
communal housing or refugee camps. While drinking water
appeared adequate, sanitation around the camps and in many
villages remained a concern. People complained of food
shortages, especially of food other than rice and onions, but
there were no reports of major health problems other than
severe depression. Farmers have not yet restarted rice
cultivation, even as the end of the planting season draws
near. As people begin to rebuild their lives, relief efforts
must focus on restarting rice cultivation and providing
people with incomes to help them help themselves. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) On June 18 to 20, USAID/OFDA shelter expert and
Poloff traveled to Labutta Township and visited two refugee
camps and four villages. Poloff had visited the two camps,
Three Mile Camp and Five Mile Camp, on a previous trip to the
delta region (Ref A). We also traveled with the Adventist
Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) to four villages:
Hlawza, Theitbangonegyi, Pyingdaungdwin, and Seitgalegone.
Cyclone Nargis affected all of the villages differently, but
all the villagers were recovering from the storm, regardless
of the amount of aid received. The only village we saw that
was not actively rebuilding was Seitgalegone, where
approximately one third of its former 150 inhabitants died in
the storm.

Shelter
-------

3. (SBU) Regardless of the amount of relief aid received, all
villages had made strides rebuilding shelter in the six weeks
since the storm hit. ADRA brought supplies such as rice,
plastic sheeting, and other building materials to Hlawza and
Theitbangonegyi in June. Villagers in both constructed
numerous new shelters since the storm, especially out of
USAID plastic sheeting and occasionally even from USAID
boxes. Villages that received little or no aid, such as
Pyindaungdwin and Seitgalegone, have rebuilt many of their
shelters from indigenous materials. The village head in
Pyindaungdwin told us that even though construction costs
have risen since the storm due to shortages of building
supplies, people were able to rebuild their homes from new
materials for around USD 50. Some people in the affected
villages still live in large groups in concrete buildings
that survived the storm, but we saw some rebuilding in each
village that we visited.

Water and Sanitation
--------------------

4. (SBU) Despite numerous calls from INGOs to provide more
drinking water to victims of Cyclone Nargis, villages and
camps that we visited appeared to have adequate potable
water. People living in villages that received plastic
sheeting had created cachement ponds for rain water to
collect clean water. Other villages used the same methods
that they used prior to the storm, such as collecting water
in clay pots from the eaves of their homes or boiling water
from streams and rivers. INGOs provided water purification
systems to refugee camps, which often supplied inhabitants
with better quality water than they had in their native
villages.

5. (SBU) On the other hand, sanitation, particularly in camps
and hard-hit villages, remained a concern. Very few drainage
systems existed, and pools of water provided a potential
breeding ground for diseases. Lack of sanitation awareness
on the part of many villagers contributed to this problem.
For example, we observed one woman dipping bathing and

RANGOON 00000532 002 OF 003


cooking water out of a stream near a latrine. Furthermore,
many villages, including Theitbangonegyi, had done very
little clean-up since the storm, only moving debris out of
roads and homes. As a result, piles of rotting wood and
other debris littered the village and contributed to public
health hazards.

The Problem of Finding Food
---------------------------

6. (SBU) Most of the areas that we visited continued to
suffer food shortages. Donors provided people living in
camps with rice, beans, and onions, but they had to buy any
other food they needed at elevated prices from sellers in
Labutta. Many refugees told us that food prices doubled
since the storm, and since they have no source of income,
they face significant problems in obtaining other staples in
the Burmese diet, including fish paste and chili. Hlawza and
Theitbangongyi faced similar shortages. The INGO Adventist
Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) brought supplies of rice
and onions, but other commodities, including vegetables,
remained absent. People in the tiny village of Seitgalegone
survived almost solely on fish and indigenous plants.
Villagers told us that they had received only a few tins of
rice since the storm.

7. (SBU) Pyindaungdwin was the exception in the food
shortages. The village head told us that its proximity to
Labutta (thirty minutes by Zodiac speedboat) allowed traders
to bring rice, beans, spices, and vegetables from outside of
the village. Nevertheless, its warehouses are still filled
with rotting rice and villagers have not yet restarted rice
cultivation.

Health and Well-being
----------------------

8. (SBU) None of the villages or camps that we visited had
experienced any major disease outbreaks. Medecins Sans
Frontiers (MSF) workers in the camps noted that many people
suffer from severe depression, and camp residents complained
that they would be happier if they could restart their lives
and find a way to make money. The attitudes of people living
in the villages were significantly better than in the camps.
People in villages were working to improve their situations
and had hope of an income.

Livelihoods and the Way Forward in the Delta
--------------------------------------------

9. (SBU) The primary concern among residents of camps and
villages was how they would repair their livelihoods. Most
people in camps told us they wanted to return home as soon as
possible; fear of starvation and lack of funds to travel were
the only factors keeping them in camps. A few people said
they never wanted to return, but they appeared to represent a
small minority; income concerns played a large part in their
decisions. In villages, most shopkeepers and fishermen had
returned to normal business.

10. (SBU) Villagers showed very few signs of restarting rice
cultivation, which along with fishing and salt production
represented the primary occupation in villages. They lacked
equipment and seeds to restart cultivation in a meaningful
way. An official from the Ministry of Industry (1) in
Theitbangonegyi showed us tractors that the ministry had
brought to sell to local farmers on an installment basis for
900,000 kyat each (USD 762). Under the plan, farmers would
pay the first installment of 300,000 kyat (USD 254) after six
months and then pay the remainder over the following two and
a half years. (Note: Most farmers make far less than 300,000
kyat per year.) In addition, the number of tractors was
insufficient to till all of the land before the end of the
planting season in July. The official acknowledged that
there was very little time to start the projects that the GOB
had proposed, especially because few people were interested
in using the tractors.

RANGOON 00000532 003 OF 003

11. (SBU) The GOB also brought draft animals, such as water
buffalo, to the area to replace those lost in the storm.
However, many villagers complained that the animals were
weak, too young to plow, or did not understand the commands
in the local language. We have learned that many of the
animals came from Karen and Shan States, were forced
contributions from farmers there, and had not received food
or water during the several days of travel from Shan or Karen
States. We saw several such animals in the villages we
visited, none of which were being used. A villager in Hlawza
told us that several animals in his village had already died.

12. (SBU) In order to provide an alternative source of
income, ADRA started a cash-for-work program where people
could earn a daily wage in return for assisting in clean-up
and rebuilding activities. The UNDP, in a similar effort in
Pyindaungdwin, gave 30,000 kyat (USD 26) each to several
families as a grant to restart their livelihoods. Both of
these programs were very small and still in their initial
stages at the time of our visit.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) Six weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit, people are
rebuilding their lives regardless of how much aid they have
received. Pyindaungdwin villagers, who have received very
little from the outside world, were doing the most to rebuild
their village and restart their livelihoods. Villagers have
moved from worrying about their daily food needs to how they
can feed their families in the coming months. At this point,
international aid in the form of cash would help them rebuild
homes and livelihoods. Cash enables them to help themselves,
it causes less distortion to local markets, and gives a sense
of possibilities to those suffering from depression and
hopelessness.
VILLAROSA

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