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Cablegate: Burma: Recovery From Cyclone Nargis

VZCZCXRO3759
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0108/01 0570414
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 260414Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9881
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2508
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2453
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 5365
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 2303
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 5947
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 9510
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0879
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 7137
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1956
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0788
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2876
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 4775
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 RANGOON 000108

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, F
DEPT FOR USAID/ANE
DEPT FOR USAID/OFDA
PACOM FOR FPA
BANGKOK FOR USAID/RDMA
TREASURY FOR OASIA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAID PREL PGOV PINR BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: RECOVERY FROM CYCLONE NARGIS

RANGOON 00000108 001.2 OF 004


SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) This cable was prepared by USAID's Office of U.S.
Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) in coordination with
the U.S. Embassy Rangoon.

2. (SBU) Most of the people in Irrawaddy and Rangoon
divisions in Burma who were affected by Cyclone Nargis are
making limited progress in rebuilding their lives nearly two
years later. With the assistance of USAID/OFDA and many
other donors and international and local agencies, a
mostly-effective and well-coordinated response has helped
millions of people to begin to recover. Local organizations
have demonstrated that they play a significant role in any
disaster response. Cyclone-affected populations have
demonstrated a strong resilience despite a lack of resources
and access to many basic services and materials. Yet many
people, more than 100,000, live in very vulnerable
conditions. Economic recovery has been very slow. While
there are many equally needy areas throughout the country,
the affected areas of the Delta will face an extended
recovery process over the next several years. Overall, the
first phase of the humanitarian assistance is coming to an
end. End Summary.


BACKGROUND
----------

3. (SBU) On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit the coastal
regions of Burma, killing an estimated 140,000 people and
affecting an estimated 7 million others, particularly the
Delta area in Irrawaddy Division as well as parts of Rangoon.

4. (SBU) Two USAID/OFDA regional advisors based in Bangkok,
Thailand, traveled to some of the most affected areas of the
Delta in Labutta Township in Irrawaddy Division from February
1 to 5 to monitor USAID/OFDA-funded programs, meet with
several agencies working in the area, and visit several
affected communities.


SHELTER
-------

5. (SBU) Most of the affected populations that the
USAID/OFDA team visited are living in adequate shelters. The
team observed a few families living in inadequate shelter
under plastic sheeting without any walls or sufficient
plastic sheeting for walls. The Shelter Working Group under
the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) estimates that there are
approximately 105,000 vulnerable families who have not
received any shelter assistance and are unable to access
resources to build back adequate housing. A report from the
TCG released on February 9 noted that while some 50 percent
of shelters were judged as safe by the Shelter Working Group,
84 percent of households that were surveyed across affected
Delta communities perceived their shelter as being worse than
before the cyclone. The USAID/OFDA team noted that the
pre-Nargis norm for shelter was typically a simple house made
of local materials with minimal structural support, and
therefore vulnerable during a major storm. The houses that
NGOs have built in collaboration with communities appear to

RANGOON 00000108 002.2 OF 004


be much sturdier and could withstand most storms, except in
the case of a cyclone with an intensity and wind speed like
Nargis. The number of shelters built by international and
local NGOs is far short of the total number of affected
households. Shelter assistance has been provided to
approximately 150,000 households to date, of which
approximately 120,000 has been provided by NGOs and UN
agencies. Most families were able to self recover using
their own resources.

6. (SBU) The Government of Burma (GOB) has built an
estimated 30,000 shelters that were provided mostly for
families relocated to new locations. The GOB shelters that
the USAID/OFDA advisors visited appeared to be built with
little consultation with the communities. The GOB provided
some shelters based on a "lottery" system, with affected
households winning a draw receiving a government house. The
NGOs, on the other hand, used a transparent set of criteria
for identifying vulnerable families and involving community
members. The GOB houses appeared to have little
reinforcement for withstanding storms, and they were built
close together in a grid pattern.


FOOD AND WATER
--------------

7. (SBU) Access to clean water remains a problem for many
communities in the Delta. Long before Cyclone Nargis, many
communities in the Delta lacked adequate drinking water and
had to travel long distances, use poor quality water, or buy
drinking water at a high cost. The cyclone exacerbated these
problems greatly. People are bringing in water from long
distances or buying water at rates as high as a fifth of
their monthly income. The USAID/OFDA advisors visited
several ponds that NGOs have built or renovated with
USAID/OFDA funding. While a few of the ponds have saline
water, most offer safe drinking water throughout the dry
season, and new ponds will become functional in a few months
after the next monsoon season starts.


ECONOMIC RECOVERY AND AGRICULTURE
---------------------------------

8. (SBU) According to the USAID/OFDA team, some
international NGOs reported that agricultural production in
some Delta areas has reached only about half of the level of
production before Cyclone Nargis. The availability of draft
animals, especially water buffalo, remains far below the
pre-Nargis level and will for many years. Farmers who met
with the USAID/OFDA advisors stressed a strong preference for
draft animals over power tillers. Access to credit remains a
bottleneck for increasing production. One unprecedented
trend of concern is that prices of rice for consumption,
which typically decrease after harvest, remain at the same
high pre-harvest level.


HEALTH
------

9. (SBU) The USAID/OFDA team, implementing partners, and
other organizations working in the Delta reported no recent

RANGOON 00000108 003.2 OF 004


outbreaks in infectious diseases or abnormal health issues
among the affected population that the USAID/OFDA advisors
visited. Malnutrition rates appear to be "normal" for Burma
pre-Nargis, according to information from UN agencies and
NGOs, and based on USAID/OFDA observations and discussions in
the communities. Stunting remains a significant chronic
problem. There were no major diarrheal outbreaks. The UN
Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported an immunization rate of
around 95 percent, based on GOB data. However, the GOB
figures are questioned by other organizations. Most of the
temporary emergency health intervention measures, including
mobile clinics, have ceased. Many people have to travel long
distances to access any health care services, and the quality
of the care is variable.


FUTURE PREPAREDNESS
-------------------

10. (SBU) Many international and local NGOs and UN agencies
have incorporated disaster risk reduction strategies into
their humanitarian response to Cyclone Nargis. Many
communities have conducted exercises or received training for
emergency situations. They demonstrated a strong resilience
during the immediate aftermath and recovery period, despite
the low level of income and resources in the affected
communities. They are paying close attention to news,
especially from radio, regarding storms heading for the
Delta. While focused on economic recovery, boats that NGOs
have built and distributed also offer some communities more
opportunities for evacuation. Some international and local
NGOs and UN agencies have constructed cyclone-resistant
shelters in communities, particularly school buildings and
religious structures. The GOB has constructed
cyclone-resistant shelters in some of the affected
communities. However, most of the rural communities,
particularly smaller and more remote ones, have no shelter
that could resist a cyclone or major storm. Some
international and local agencies plan to continue to
construct limited numbers of additional cyclone-resistant
shelters.

11. (SBU) Local NGOs and community-based organizations have
a much greater capacity to respond to future disasters. Much
emphasis has been put on training local NGO staff on basic
principles and specific methodologies related to disaster
response. Paung Ku, a consortium of local and international
organizations in Burma, reported that the consortium has
distributed small grants to more than 600 local groups.
Based on follow-up monitoring, more than 87 percent of the
USD 2.5 million that Paung Ku distributed went directly to
village level groups in the form of grants, reaching more
than half a million affected people.

12. (SBU) Donors, international and local NGOs, and UN
agencies generally reported good coordination. The
Tripartite Core Group, set up with support from the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the UN, and
the GOB to coordinate and oversee assistance, has functioned
well in the Burma context, though the GOB's restriction on
its mandate last March has limited its effectiveness since
then. Agencies reported general satisfaction with
coordination efforts


RANGOON 00000108 004.2 OF 004

CONCLUSION
----------

13. (SBU) USAID/OFDA's assistance, totaling approximately
USD 35 million as part of the U.S. Government's total
provision of approximately USD 75 million, has helped provide
effective immediate emergency assistance and early recovery
on a large scale. USAID will soon launch a follow-on
humanitarian assistance program of approximately USD 10
million which will include grants to some of USAID/OFDA's
partners in key humanitarian sectors. In addition, a new
multi-donor USD 120 million program will start soon and reach
many vulnerable people in the Delta region with economic
assistance. USAID/OFDA staff will continue to maintain
regular contact with partners and agencies on the ground and
monitor the humanitarian situation in the country.
USAID/OFDA will pay particular attention to the ongoing
primary concerns of access to clean water, adequate shelter
and nutritional status of vulnerable groups.
DINGER

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