Recovery through cash – Myanmar 100 days after the floods

Published: 10 November 2015 17:30 CET

By Mandy George, IFRC

One hundred days after the floods that killed at least 125 people and displaced over 1.7 million across Myanmar, the waters have finally receded.  

Over 2,000 Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteers have provided 71,000 people with emergency relief since the floods and landslides began at the end of July. The worst of the flooding came in the wake of Cyclone Komen, which coupled with torrential rains affected 12 of Myanmar’s 15 states.

Most of the displaced have now returned to their villages of origin but about 7,000 people remain in evacuation sites, mainly in Sagaing Region and Chin State. The Red Cross continues to provide relief items to these temporary camps, including hygiene kits, tarpaulins and blankets for the upcoming winter.

With the end of the monsoon season and dropping river levels, the Myanmar Red Cross Society is beginning to focus on the medium- and long-term needs of communities. The most serious and long-term consequences of the floods are the impact on the food security and livelihoods of communities dependent on agriculture.

Over 1.1 million acres of farm and rice-paddy land were destroyed just as the planting season had begun and livestock losses amounted to 240,000 animals. The destruction of crops led to rising food prices as well as a sharp increase in transportation costs (up to 75 per cent in some areas). The long-term effect on individual households is considerable, and farmers are not expecting to yield a significant harvest at least June 2016.

The damage to over 480,000 homes and destruction of 39,000 more means that repairing and rebuilding is a priority. Access to clean drinking water is also a primary concern as many water sources were damaged and are in need of repair.

To address some of these needs, the Myanmar Red Cross Society with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is working in 15 villages in Sagaing and Chin to provide 2,000 of the most affected and vulnerable households with cash grants that they can spend on their most important needs.

Daw Aye Aye Thant, flood operations manager for the Red Cross, explains this choice of approach. “There are two reasons for giving cash; first because it gives people the power of choice to be in charge of their own recovery by spending the money on whatever they think is most important. Second, it is the best way that we can ensure that we reach a lot of people, fast.”

The Red Cross is specifically targeting those most in need first. “I recently met one family in Tamu who were badly affected by the floods and the grandfather had had a stroke. This put an extra burden on the whole family,” Aye Aye Thant says. “I have also met elderly widows with large families who lost everything. All flood-affected people are vulnerable, but certain families like these are even more so.”

The Red Cross anticipates that the recipients of the cash grants will spend money on housing and is coordinating with the government so that assistance of not duplicated.

Cash grants are just one part of the recovery operation. The Red Cross will be assisting communities until August 2016 to make sure they have improved health awareness, especially around vector-borne diseases. They are also providing mosquito nets and helping to improve hygiene standards and will be working with community groups to ensure that they are better prepared for future disasters.

The Red Cross will also be rehabilitating water sources and the highest priority will be given to the communities that do not have any water sources such as newly relocated villages.