Cyclone Nargis, which swept across Burma in early May, caused more than $4bn in damage and losses to the country, a level of devastation on a par with the destruction caused by the 2004 Asian tsunami in Indonesia, according to an international assessment.
The evaluation, compiled by the United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations, with the government of Burma, estimated that Burma would require $1bn (€630m, £500m) of recovery funding over three years to help severely affected survivors to get back on their feet.
Nargis, which hit Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta on May 2-3, was the worst cyclone to strike Asia since 1991 and left 138,000 people dead or missing, and affected an estimated 2.4m survivors.
UN officials on Monday praised the Burmese government for its co-operation in assessing the damages, and allowing aid agencies to carry out relief work unhindered. The conciliatory tone is in sharp contrast to the initial aftermath of the disaster, when international aid workers seethed in frustration at the military junta’s refusal to allow them into the disaster zone.
The report estimated that Nargis had caused about $1.75bn in damage to physical assets in Burma, including the destruction of 450,000 homes, damage to another 350,000 and the loss of thousands of schools, health centres, and religious buildings.
Victims also lost an estimated $2.3bn in income, bringing total losses to about 21 per cent of Burma’s gross domestic product in the last fiscal year.
The report – the first comprehensive international look at conditions in the delta since the disaster – will serve as a blueprint for fundraising for the long-term effort to help recovery, providing a common reference point for discussions between foreign donors and the Burmese regime.
Nyan Win, the Burmese foreign minister, expressed hope on Monday that the international community “will come up with increased assistance”, while Sir John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, urged donors to “be generous”, saying that international aid so far had been “well-spent”.
However, international aid workers have expressed concern that raising funds will be challenging. Despite deep poverty, Burma’s population has long received only paltry outside aid, while western governments have pressed the ruling junta for political reform, and freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-detained Nobel Prize-winning democracy advocate.
“We are not in a situation where the cyclone has swept away the old political realities and that is having an impact on resources,” one UN official told the FT. “The major constraint [to relief and recovery] will be donor resources …there is not enough money coming in and there will be a crunch point very soon.”
The UN has raised about $190m for its own agencies and NGOs working on the initial disaster relief effort, but it is still seeking an additional $300m to fund emergency relief and limited early recovery work through April 2009.
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