Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Food Insecurity Threatens Cyclone Survivors

The Irrawaddy News

OUTKWIN, Irrawaddy Delta —Whenever the time comes to cook a meal, 32-year old Than Myint feels suffocated.

With the meager income her husband and her eldest son earn, Than Myint finds it very hard to cook meals for her eight-member family.

Since December, she has not received any food aid from the humanitarian agencies and has faced severe shortage of rice. There have been times her family has had to skip a meal.

”I often have to go around the village to borrow rice," the mother of six said in the kitchen of her makeshift hut in Outkwin Village, near Pyapon Town, one of the hardest-hit areas during the cyclone last year.

"Sometimes, I have to exchange some of our clothes for rice," she said.

Beside her, a four-year-old child was crying incessantly to be fed.

Prior to the cyclone, Than Myint’s family never found it difficult to make both ends meet. While her husband worked as a fisherman, her eldest son worked as a day laborer in the paddy fields surrounding their village.

However, after the cyclone that struck Rangoon and Irrawaddy Delta last year, Than Myint's husband and eldest son could barely make enough money to buy basic food rations.

There are thousands of families like Than Myint’s in the cyclone-affected townships of Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions who still have been unable to earn enough food for their families, even though one year has already passed since the category-four cyclone destroyed their livelihoods.

The storm devastated the agricultural, fisheries and small-sale livestock sectors, which are the main livelihoods of the delta people, making most of the cyclone-affected people solely dependent on food aid for the past one year.

In a response, international and local nongovernmental organizations delivered food aid to the needy households in cooperation with the government. They also helped the landless, the poor, and female-headed households in restoring their livelihoods.

However, until now, the majority of families are still finding it hard to feed themselves.

According to a survey conducted in the worst-hit Laputta and Bogalay townships in February by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), 51 percent of households reported that they are still relying on food aid from humanitarian agencies, while only 25 percent said they could feed themselves.

The report—named the Rapid Food Security Assessment (RFSA)—also said about 83 percent of households said they have been in debt through the purchase of rice.

"There are pockets of concern over food insecurity in most of the households in the delta," a UN official from WFP said.

He also said that there is a “pressing need” to assist the landless, the poor and female-headed households in terms of food aid until they can feed themselves.

In fact, even some farmers who own dozens of acres of paddy are unable to feed themselves.

There are hundreds of farmers who have had bad harvests over the last year, and have had to buy rice on credit from the fortunate farmers who maintained good harvests.

"I feel so sad whenever I think of borrowing rice from those who have very limited paddy harvests,” said U Nyo, a 52-year-old farmer.

U Nyo told The Irrawaddy he could grow 15 acres of paddy in the previous rice-planting season. However, this year he only harvested around five acres, he said. The rest failed.

"I cannot store the rice for my family,” he said. “I had to sell it to pay off the debt that I took during the rice-planting season last year.”

He added that the money he received from selling rice was not enough to cover his debt.

This year, most of the farmers dare not store too much rice, since they fear another disaster such as Nargis and most said they expect food prices to rise.

"The price of rice could be much higher than in previous years," a farmer from Asel Lay Village in Dedayal Township said. “That’s because most of the farmers do not have any rice in storage. They have to pay whatever the traders say the current price is.”

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