Relief aid from Switzerland for the victims of the cyclone disaster in Burma/Myanmar over three months ago has been more successful than initially thought and reached those in need. This is the unanimous conclusion of the responsible persons in Swiss relief organizations such as Caritas, MSF and ADRA. Last May, Cyclone Nargis claimed 140 000 lives and directly affected another 2.4 million people. Relief work was indeed delayed and hampered by official hurdles but despite this the balance is positive, mainly because the people knew how to help themselves. Bettina Bühler from Caritas sums it up by saying “The relief supplies were distributed by faces other than the ones we are used to.” Relief organizations that were already working in Burma before the disaster and had local employees were able to act with speed and efficiency.
“The funds from Swiss Solidarity enabled us to quickly provide 15 000 people with mattresses, clothes, hygiene items and mosquito nets,” confirms Joakim Cotting from the relief organization ADRA, which also worked with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and UNO. ADRA is now working out of Labutta with 250 local employees, supplying 106 villages or 60 000 people primarily by boat. In his recent visit, Cotting was actually able to see for himself that “in many places, inhabitants have begun to rebuild their houses themselves with our material.” Caritas representative Bettina Bühler, who has visited Burma twice since the disaster, emphasizes that factors of climate change are being taken into account in rebuilding work, saying: “The sea level in the Irrawaddy delta is expected to rise and so new settlements are being built on filled ground or stilts.” In addition, the structure of the houses will be strengthened to better withstand the increasing threat of cyclones.
Swiss Solidarity has used almost half of the 4.5 million Swiss francs donated for Burma relief on emergency aid. Swiss Solidarity partner organizations are currently preparing rebuilding projects: Terre des hommes for example is planning measures in health care, Caritas Switzerland is planning schools, medical care and house building, while ADRA wants to extensively reactivate fishing by providing boats and nets and rice cultivation by supplying tools – fishing and rice cultivation are two classic means of self-help.
“Needs remain immense,” confirm both Bettina Bühler and Joakim Cotting. Donations are still urgently needed and can be made to Swiss Solidarity postal account No. 10-15000-6 (endorsed “Burma”) or online via Internet.