A few days ago, Swiss Solidarity project analyst Rahel Specht returned from a 14-day visit to Burma/Myanmar. In addition to several regions, she was also able to visit projects financed by Swiss Solidarity.
As a reminder: on 2 May 2008, Cyclone Nagris devastated the south coast of Burma/Myanmar. The scale of destruction was colossal with over 138 000 people dead or missing and millions homeless. Despite administrative obstacles from the Burmese government, Swiss Solidarity and its partner relief organizations succeeded in providing rapid, on-the-spot emergency aid.
Helped by their local and international networks and their presence in the country, nine Swiss relief organizations managed to implement 20 projects: ADRA, Caritas Switzerland, Swiss Red Cross, Pestalozzi Children’s Village Foundation, François-Xavier Bagnoud International, Doctors Without Frontiers, Swissaid, Terre des Hommes (TdH) and the German Buddhist Union (GBU).
This was your first visit to the country. What struck you most there?
I was struck most by the discrepancy in the country. The incredible beauty of the landscape, the gentleness and unassuming nature of people surrounded by crises and immense problems. I was also impressed by the readiness of people to help one another. After the cyclone, victims were helped by numerous individual missions.
Which major challenges does realization of projects face?
The biggest challenge is probably transport. The worst affected villages are in very remote regions. The harsh climatic conditions (heavy rainfall) mean that many villages can only be reached by boat and via a labyrinth of canals and waterways. Access is most difficult in the time between the rainy and dry periods, when only small boats carrying light loads can be used.
How many projects supported by Swiss Solidarity are currently ongoing?
Of the 20 projects supported by Swiss Solidarity, 3 are currently ongoing. After emergency aid,(distribution of emergency shelters, food, drinking water, medicine, survival kits etc.) assistance has been given with repair work and rebuilding projects. Current ongoing projects involve rebuilding schools, providing psychosocial assistance for children, rebuilding communal toilet facilities, accessing water sources and restoring and improving means of sanitation and hygiene etc. All these projects correspond to concrete needs that have been clarified with those directly affected.
What local cooperation is being received by the organizations?
Under SDC patronage, a platform has been set up for exchanges and coordination of activities between the individual Swiss organizations. Swiss Solidarity is indirectly involved in this. In addition, all organizations in the area have working groups. In a country where assistance has been hampered by cumbersome governmental formalities, coordination of the work of the relief organizations is all the more essential and logical.
The five million Swiss francs raised by Swiss Solidarity to benefit victims in Burma/Myanamar has been totally used up. Living conditions are back to pre-cyclone standards. Now the people are to be given the means to improve these living conditions and thus their level of hygiene. And in addition to take precautions against future disasters – for instance by building cyclone-proof communal shelters.