A year after the ASEAN-led coordinating Tripartite Core Group (TCG) was established to spearhead the humanitarian and recovery efforts in Myanmar, victims and survivors of Cyclone Nargis are still in crisis situation.
With more than US$300 million already given by foreign governments and international organizations in the past months after the cyclone, US$691 million is a new price tag for post-disaster restoration and recovery of the affected areas in Myanmar for the next three years. Will more financial aid be sustainable in the crisis situation such as in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis?
Historically and globally, financial aid is tied with development programs. Amidst the criticisms and dismal results against its development targets and objectives, financial aid continues to grow exponentially in the developing world every year. And yet, the world's poor have never been more at risk of becoming hungrier, more marginalized and more prone to more environmental disasters than ever before. Sadly without financial aid though, they will ultimately be more vulnerable to all sorts of human and environmental problems.
The appeal for more financial aid, for Myanmar, includes humanitarian aid. It is not only about development cooperation, rather the financial aid aims to save and restore lives and alleviate extreme suffering brought about by the impacts of the powerful cyclone.
In Myanmar, the magnitude of destruction of the cyclone to the peoples' economic and social lives is unprecedented in the country's history. The ruling military junta has not confronted such kind of crisis situation.
Notably, the humanitarian response of the international and regional communities led by the ASEAN Secretariat and TCG has been admirable in spite of various challenges compromising the achievement of their humanitarian goals. Their post-disaster strategies have been focused on the people's basic needs such as shelter, food, livelihood, health and education. It looks like they have tremendous difficulties in meeting those basic needs. And now, they are asking for more financial aid to accelerate the recovery of people's livelihoods and address the basic needs of the victims and survivors of the cyclone.
For sure, the financial aid will help in the implementation of overall framework of post-disaster strategies. However, there may be a need to expand the focus of strategies to include the ecosystem approach which values biodiversity’s contribution to recovery efforts. There are two realities that call for attention which may persuade the expansion of focus in Myanmar for sustainability of recovery efforts – devastated natural resources base and unprepared and untested national capacity to confront such crisis situation.
Last year, I was in Bogale Township, one of the most affected areas in the delta region three months after the cyclone, to support the ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force in Myanmar. In remote villages, I saw the damage marked in people's lives and environment. There was a widespread degraded natural resources base which used to support income-generating activities.
There were also obvious uncertainties on the looks of the people and local officials on what to do. But they knew exactly what they needed and their urgencies.
The ecosystems of Irrawaddy delta region of Myanmar are primarily suited for farming and fishing. If the post-disaster strategies cover livelihood security for the people, then the restoration of ecosystems that have sustained the people's basic needs even before the cyclone hit must be
integrated in the recovery efforts. Failing to do so could mean endless calls for more financial aid.
The ecosystem approach entails integrated management of biodiversity such as land, water, and living resources that necessitates restoration to be able to be productive again and become assets of and beneficial to the people. In this way, local people could rely on what they have, rather than on what other people have.
The second expanded focus is about developing the national capacity of the country to address such crisis situation. There should be less foreign aid workers coming to Myanmar, more locals getting hired to do humanitarian work, and enhanced bureaucracy to address persisting problems after a year of the disaster. The locals and bureaucracy must have gained necessary skills and capacity to be able to attend to the recovery needs of their own people. The ownership of the post-disaster restoration and recovery of Myanmar belongs to its own people.
Furthermore, as part of one ASEAN community, Myanmar can count on its fellow members of a caring community to extend the necessary support for its recovery efforts.
In a short term, more financial aid can only do so much in Myanmar. What is critically needed is an expansion of focus to include ecosystem restoration and development of national capacity to handle crisis situations to facilitate and accelerate the recovery efforts in Myanmar in a sustained manner.