Myanmar/Burma: Empowered women help their communities prepare for disasters

by Airlie Taylor, ActionAid | European Commission
Monday, 4 August 2014 12:49 GMT

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Since cyclone Nargis hit Pyapon in Myanmar/Burma six years ago, ActionAid has been working with the affected communitied. Airlie Taylor went back to see what has changed.

I’ve travelled by car, motorbike and boat to the village of KyonKan (Zin Baung) in Pyapon to see how ActionAid is helping people prepare for disasters and develop early warning systems.

"Our village was destroyed. All but five of the houses collapsed," explains May Thu Win, an ActionAid volunteer from KyonKan (Zin Baung). "There was no early warning. Afterwards, we didn’t have any food for five days."

Her village sits just metres above sea-level on the banks of the Ayeyarwady Delta, a huge stretch of land in south-central Myanmar prone to seasonal flooding and tidal surges. High winds and flooding caused by Nargis killed nearly 140 000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

A turning point

The devastation brought by the cyclone was a turning point for May Thu Win’s village. Six years on and things have really changed.

ActionAid has been working in Pyapon through its partner, Action for Social Aid (ASA), to lead a project helping communities prepare for disasters, along with four other aid agencies (Plan Germany, Oxfam GB, Malteser International and UN-Habitat). Funding was provided by the European Union through its Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO).

"Before, we didn’t know anything about disasters," May Thu Win tells me. "I’m part of the early warning task force."

The task force is part of the village disaster management committee set up with support from ActionAid. Community members manage activities to reduce the impact of disasters and coordinate responses to emergencies.

May Thu Win took part in a simulation exercise last year to identify gaps in the village’s emergency response plans. When warnings of a new cyclone – Mahasen – came in May 2013, she had an opportunity to put what she’d learnt into practice, helping people evacuate to a safe shelter before receiving news that the storm had changed course.

Read the rest of the story here.