178,000 Nargis victims lack decent shelter

Nov 26, 2009 (DVB), Regional aid for victims of Burma's cyclone Nargis will only cover 14 percent of vulnerable families in the country's southern Irrawaddy delta, with 178,000 people still without proper shelter.

The bleak assessment was announced yesterday by the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a Bangkok conference, where ASEAN revealed it had raised $US88 million for Nargis relief efforts.

Although it is 18 months since the cyclone ripped through the Irrawaddy delta, killing 140,000 and leaving 2.4 million destitute, the situation remains fragile.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Srinivasa Popuri, leader of a shelter aid group in Burma, said that thousands were still without adequate housing. "The materials have gone through two monsoons and they won’t last another season," she warned.

Many are still living under tarpaulin roofs that were distributed shortly after the cyclone hit last May, with rescue efforts hampered by a government ban on foreign relief workers entering the affected areas.

"What is reflected here (with 17,800 new houses) is not what is needed. It is a much-reduced version of what may be possible to do between now and July [2010]," Bishow Parajuli, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Burma, told Reuters.

Estimates of the total cost of the three-year recovery plan have been put at $US690 million. The $US88 million announced by ASEAN yesterday falls short of the $US103 million target set for the coming year.

The EU also announced that it would inject a further $US21 million in aid to the region, while the Australian government last week pledged $US13.8 million for relief efforts.

Burma observers have however warned of the potential for misappropriation of aid by the Burmese regime, which ranked 178 out of 180 on Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

According to the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan, around 783,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed by the cyclone. Nearly 60 percent of families in the delta region are dependent on farming as their primary source of income.

The UN Food and Agricultural Office (FAO) has said that increasing rodent infestation in the delta is posing a danger to crop harvests.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Burmese government has instructed farmers to kill up to 15 rats per day, and submit their tails to local authorities, or risk being fined.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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