Cyclone starves 86,000 of income

More than 86,000 are “without any hope of cash” in coastal areas of Arakan state nearly three weeks after cyclone Giri flattened houses and destroyed farmland.

According to UN estimates, at least 16,187 hectares of rice paddy were destroyed when the cyclone slammed in Burma’s western coast on 22 October. Initial reports put the number of those affected at around 260,000, with more than 80,000 left homeless.

IRIN news agency quoted Sanaka Sanarasinha, deputy resident representative at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Burma, as saying that 40 to 50 percent of the area was no longer harvestable.

Rice is the staple crop in Burma and, despite witnessing a massive fall in production since its heyday in the 1930s, remains a major export commodity. The cyclone hit at the very time harvesting was due in Arakan state, destroying the only source of income for thousands of people.

Figures released by the Burmese government’s Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) show that rice exports fell from 750,000 tonnes in the first six months of 2009 to just over 270,000 this year.

In contrast to scathing condemnation of the Burmese junta’s reluctance to allow aid to the Irrawaddy delta following cyclone Nargis in 2008, there have been no reports that food and medicine to the Arakan region have been blocked.

Following Nargis, which destroyed an estimated 1.75 million hectares of farmland, or 30 percent of the wet season rice area for Burma, the junta attracted further criticism for continuing to export rice at the same levels as prior to the disaster.

The UN Development Programme has put the figure needed for reconstruction of affected Arakan state areas over the coming three months at $US6-7 million.

In the worst-hit town of Myebon, more than 10,000 houses were destroyed, according to the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU). Only 10 percent of those households are now in camps.

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