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Adapting Myanmar resilience projects in response to COVID-19

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Cordaid has been working in Myanmar since 2008, starting with support in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, and since then continued with humanitarian aid and resilience projects. The country is a high-risk area for natural hazards like floods, cyclones, landslides, and earthquakes. In many ethnically diverse areas, conflicts have been present for many years, and currently, Myanmar is also facing the issues concerning the coronavirus pandemic. Cordaid works on resilience in three areas in Myanmar.

One of these areas is the central dry zone of the country. This area experiences flooding yearly, up to several months. Additionally, erosion of the banks of the most important river in the country (the Irrawaddy river) has resulted in losing land and movement of whole villages.

Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction

Cordaid, in partnership with Caritas Myanmar (KMSS), has been working on Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction. In 13 villages, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) committees have been set up, which have been trained to properly mitigate, prevent, prepare for, and respond to certain hazards, mainly floods.

Villagers have now received a boat to be able to travel during flooding time, or built an emergency shelter, elevated a road, or constructed a water tank and pipes to be able to get clean drinking water in flooding season.

Help in a systematic way

With provision and training of the government and KMSS for reading water gauges, first aid training, disaster risk reduction, leadership, and more skill sets, the DRR committees are ready for monsoon season, starting this June. As one of the committee members said: “We are now able to help in a systematic way, instead of just trying to do something without having knowledge.”

As the world has changed tremendously in the past months due to the coronavirus pandemic, this project has adapted its activities. Mass gatherings are not allowed anymore, and COVID-19 response has been set into place.

The 13 project villages and another 17 villages in the area have been reached by KMSS with support from Cordaid for various activities. Needs assessments were conducted and as a result, distribution of soap, hand sanitizers, masks, protective gear, wet tissues, and towels has been done in targeted villages and the seven quarantine centres in the area.

Equal distribution of materials

The DRR committees of the 13 project villages take responsibility for the equal distribution of materials. Furthermore, people in home quarantine or quarantine facilities have been supported with materials. This was done in coordination and cooperation with the parliamentarians of the township, government departments, and local civil society organisations.

Lastly, awareness-raising activities have been conducted, in which KMSS and civil society organisations spread information related to the pandemic and the prevention measures to be taken to many villages and towns in the project area of Pakokku Township.

The second resilience project covers the mountainous area of North Kayin state, bordering Thailand, where Cordaid is working on enhancing community resilience. The conflict has disrupted livelihoods for many years, but people have returned to their villages and restarted their livelihoods.

Saving and Loan groups In a consortium with ZOA, World Concern, SNV and four local partners, improved incomes and nutritional outcomes are addressed. Cordaid has established 53 Saving and Loan groups. Members of these groups save money and borrow this money to other members of the group, often for food, education, health, or business investments.

These loans are especially crucial in emergency situations, like funerals, hospitalisation, or reconstruction of housing. In the four years of the project, the Saving and Loan groups have gained a lot of capacity and have gotten a more business-oriented perspective. They increase their savings by conducting extra activities. Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction is also here important.

Rodent infestations and strong winds

Villagers have made risk maps of their villages and have made a plan to address the risks they are facing. The main risks are rodent infestations and strong winds.

However, this project also has been constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With meetings not being allowed anymore, members of Saving and Loan groups visit the chairperson and accountant individually, and the groups are supported by peer trainers. Additionally, Cordaid staff provides online monitoring and coaching sessions.

Monitoring data continues to be collected, not only of members but also of corner shops. This will provide information on the effects of the pandemic on shops in rural villages as well.

Lastly, the consortium has been able to provide hygiene kits, awareness-raising materials, support for quarantine facilities, and staff and community prevention measures.

Working in Yangon’s most densely populated areas

The third area Cordaid where Cordaid is working on resilience concerns the industrial area of Yangon: Hlaing Thar Yar township. It is one of Yangon’s most densely populated areas, where migrants from all over Myanmar have come in search for work.

Unfortunately, due to the rapid population growth and little service provision, inhabitants live in a vulnerable situation, with high risks for hazards like floods and diseases. Migrants often live in slum areas with poor sanitation and limited access to water and adequate nutrition. The factory workers, mostly in the garment sector, earn very little income to sustain their households.

Cordaid is working on urban resilience by building the capacity of people living in cities, especially the poor, to support them to be able to better anticipate, respond and transform their high-risk situations.

With a community-managed approach, Cordaid has supported three villages in the township in three different ways. In Inner Padan village, inhabitants identified unclean water as the highest risk in the village. As a response, a committee was established which sought the solution to address this risk.

Reverse osmosis water shop

After submitting a micro-proposal to Cordaid, Cordaid has supported them with a reverse osmosis water shop. The committee runs this water shop and provides poor households with cheap clean water.

In Yay Oakkan village, the community identified the lack of proper waste management as the highest risk. There was no collection system and people threw all rubbish on the streets or in the drainage systems and rivers. Therefore, drainage systems were blocked, and diseases could spread easily.

A waste management committee wrote a proposal and in collaboration with the government, a waste collection system has been set up, and a big clean up of collection sites was conducted with the help of the villagers.

Fire hazard

Lastly, Nyaung village identified fire as their highest risk. In the many slums in the village, fire is a great danger. With a fire response committee set up in collaboration with the fire brigade, awareness-raising activities were provided, to explain people about causes of fire and preventative measures.

Furthermore, a simulation exercise was conducted and fire extinguishers, as well as other access to water, were provided.

As Yangon is hardest hit by the corona-virus pandemic, Hlaing Thar Yar township is in a lock-down. Not only are they highly susceptible to the virus, but also many factory workers have been laid off by their company.

Providing 5.800 masks

In an immediate response before the lockdown, Cordaid worked together with the Public Health department in the township providing 5.800 masks to the Public Health department, as they do not have enough to protect their staff and the volunteers.

The water shop in Inner Padan village is still running, but with necessary measures taken. Some people are afraid to go to the water shop, but as there are no alternative sources of water supply, with the necessary measures of social distance, hand washing, masks, and gloves, the committee is still able to serve water to the people.

No money for food

Plans are currently drawn to provide vulnerable households in the township with food, as many do not receive income anymore and do not have the money to buy food.

All three COVID-19 response programme in the central dry zone, north Kayin state, and Yangon have been set up very quickly after Myanmar started implementing measures. Many communities have been provided with information, and the needed materials to keep themselves and each other safe.