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Cablegate: Burma Cyclone: Usaid/Ofda Assessment Cable #6

O 110952Z AUG 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8042
AMEMBASSY BANGKOK IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU IMMEDIATE
USMISSION GENEVA IMMEDIATE
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE
INFO NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RANGOON 000650


AIDAC

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, PRM, DRL
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR DCHA/FFP AND DCHA/OTI
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA KLUU, ACONVERY, RTHAYER
BANGKOK FOR DCHA/OFDA WBERGER AND TROGERS
KATHMANDU FOR DCHA/OFDA SMCINTYRE AND MROGERS
USMISSION GENEVA FOR NKYLOH
USMISSION USUN FOR FSHANKS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID SENV KSCA TBIO VM EAGR PREF
SUBJECT: BURMA CYCLONE: USAID/OFDA ASSESSMENT CABLE #6

REF: A) RANGOON 0546


--------
SUMMARY
--------

1. On July 29 and 30, a USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster
Assistance (USAID/OFDA) disaster specialist traveled to the
Irrawaddy Delta on a U.N. Development Program (UNDP) sponsored
assessment trip to highlight early recovery programs instituted by
UNDP and the international non-governmental organization PACT.
During the two-day assessment, the team visited the villages of Shwe
Pyi Aye, Nge Thu, and Kyar Chaung in Bogale township, which had been
severely affected by Cyclone Nargis. Although almost completely
destroyed, all three villages were making every attempt to
reinstitute traditional livelihoods. Aside from the basic
assistance provided by humanitarian organizations and the Government
of Burma (GOB), the villagers had yet to receive any monetary-based
assistance. Villagers interviewed consistently requested help to
restart income generating activities and reenergize economic
activity. At present, the villagers are largely dependent on
outside assistance for basic needs. Residents without any assets,
including landless individuals, are left with little or no income
generating capacity. End Summary.

------------------
ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
------------------

2. The GOB instituted public works programs in the initial days of
the post-cyclone clean up, but only for a one-week period. The
villagers were paid for the collection and burial of dead bodies,
debris removal, road and pond cleaning, and reconstruction of
primary schools. Prior to Cyclone Nargis, UNDP and PACT had
established self-reliance, or micro credit, programs and all
verified clients have had program savings returned along with the
cancellation of any outstanding debt. After the cyclone, UNDP has
provided small grants through PACT to some of the villagers for
shelter reconstruction, small trade operations, and farming
equipment. Since the initial cash infusion, no other basic economic
activities have been carried out at the village level. Comment:
See Ref A for additional information on the UNDP/PACT microfinance
project. USAID/OFDA has provided funding to PACT for the small
grants program. End Comment.

----------------
FARMING
-----------------

3. In each of the three villages visited, the assessment team
observed rice farmers cultivating fields with power tillers provided
by either the GOB or humanitarian organizations. The rapid
provision of equipment and seed allowed the farmers from the three
villages to plant the majority, if not all, of the local land set
aside for rice farming. The initial distribution of assets to
cultivate the land did not provide the cash needed to pay laborers
and buy additional seed to plant the fields, should the seeds
donated by the GOB not germinate, as has occurred on several
previous occasions.

4. The losses from the cyclone, including water buffalo, savings,
and the previous season's seed crop, has altered traditional farming
practices with adverse affects for laborers. Farmers have been able
to access small loans through the UNDP Early Recovery Basic Service
Packages to procure lost equipment. As a condition of the loans,
farmers must contribute three to five baskets of seed per acre
planted to the seed bank at harvest time. The UNDP loans are only
available to individuals with existing assets.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
ECONOMIC IMPACT ON LABORERS AND LANDLESS INDIVIDUALS
--------------------------------------------- ----------

5. Participants in the community discussions at each of the three
villages asked for small grants and loans to be given to the
landowners to provide the resources to hire the labors to work the
fields. Presently, the team noted that farming is being done by
immediate and extended members of the landowner's family, and work
is moving at a quick pace due to the introduction of large numbers
of power tillers. If additional seeds are provided, the land under
production would increase, necessitating the hiring of laborers by
landowners to plant the additional seeds. Seeds have been provided
under a repayment plan by the GOB and through the UNDP and PACT
programs, as well as donated by humanitarian organizations.

6. Members of the assessment team commented that the change in
farming practices could ultimately further economically marginalize
laborers due to replacement of lost water buffalo with power
tillers. Ultimately, the tillers can cover more land in a day than
a team of buffalo and are not as labor intensive. However, with the
loss of so many draft animals and the need to plant rice before the
end of the planting season, many in the humanitarian community
believe that providing power tillers was necessary.

------------------------------
INCOME GENERATING ACTIVITIES
------------------------------

7. UNDP staff indicated the early recovery programs planned for
implementation in the coming months will involve small individual
investments and grants, small-scale trading, and community
infrastructure reconstruction programs. Such programs will include
school renovation with a disaster risk reduction component to
mitigate the affects of future storms. Before the cyclone,
community based organizations were already running small-scale
lending programs. UNDP and implementing partners will build on
community familiarity with such programs to reenergize the local
economy. Villagers present at the time of the assessment team's
visit expressed interest in using the loans to begin income
generating activities such as chicken, duck, and pig breeding
programs. Until the next planting season, non-landowning laborers
remain vulnerable and are at present completely dependent on
external assistance and income from fishing and day labor.
Cash-based programs are essential to preventing landless individuals
from falling into a cycle of dependency.


VILLAROSA

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