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Myanmar – Cyclone Nargis

On 2nd May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit the nation of Myanmar. At that point of time, it was the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar. Nearly 140,000 people died and 2.4 million were severely affected. It was the worst natural disaster to hit Asia since the 2004 tsunami that killed at least 232,000 people. Most of those who died in Myanmar were killed by a 3.5 metre wall of water that hit the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta.

A year later, together with my wife Laura, we visited Myanmar and specifically the township of Bogalay (southwest of Yangon) together with the villages in its vicinity. This area was one of the worst hit areas in the Irrawaddy Delta division with an estimated 10,000 people who perished. We were there working for an NGO, Asian Outreach. Laura’s role was to account for the donations and various projects that were started after the cyclone hit and my role was to photo document the beneficiaries and the community development projects. We spent time listening to the life stories of the villagers and checking out the progress of the rebuilding work.

Damage caused by the Cyclone was estimated at US$4 billion. Some 42 percent of food stocks were destroyed. The Irrawaddy Delta, an area covering some 23,500 square kilometres, is known as the country’s rice bowl and home to about 7.35 million people. The cyclone flooded paddy fields with sea water, damaged irrigation systems and destroyed seed supplies. Of 1.3 million ha (3.2 million acres) of rice fields in the cyclone-hit areas, 60 percent was affected by the Cyclone. A year later when we visited, the yield of rice was just 10% of the normal yield compared to before Cyclone Nargis hit. Many of the villages we visited were still in need of rice and many families were surviving on 1 meal a day which was a meagre bowl of rice soup that barely filled their stomachs.

Cyclone Nargis killed around 200,000 farm animals, including 120,000 used by farmers to plough their fields. When we were there, less than 10 percent of small animals and poultry essential for many landless farmers had been replaced. The villages that we visited had received some ducklings to replace a fraction of the ones killed during the cyclone. These ducklings were purchased from donations made through Asian Outreach for the rebuilding phase of the villages affected by the Cyclone.

Only 17,000 out of 375,000 destroyed houses had been rebuilt one year after the cyclone. Aid groups estimated at least 500,000 survivors, including 200,000 children, were living in makeshift shelters, primarily due to a lack of funding. An estimated 200,000 fishing boats were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. Like the ducklings, many families also received fishing boats purchased from donations made through the organisation Laura served in.

During our visit, we caught merely a small glimpse of the many needs of the people. One year after the cyclone, the needs were still many! My strongest memories from this trip would be the hospitality and kindness of the people who sought to serve and bless us as visitors with the little that they had. Many faces of the local people have also left a deep impression on my mind.

The following is a selection of photographs that I captured during my visit there.