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Staying away from the widowing water

No matter how much she loved the river and sea that once provided her family's daily food, Tin Tin Latt now just wants to stay away from the water that widowed her, killed two of her children and destroyed the family's livelihood.

Tin Tin Latt is among thousands of widows of fishermen in Myanmar's cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta who have been forced to become breadwinners without land to farm or the means to earn money from the sea.

Cyclone Nargis, which struck in early May, killed 84,500 people and left 54,000 missing, according to the ruling junta, in the worst natural disaster in Myanmar's modern history and the world's fifth deadliest in the past 40 years. Of the dead, 27,000 were fishermen, the regime says, although aid workers believe the actual number is far higher.

The storm also destroyed boats, nets, jetties and processing plants, crippling a top export revenue earner in one of the world's poorest nations.

The Myanmar government says it plans to build more than 9,000 boats and provide fishing nets to speed revival.

“We have started distribution to help those fishermen to regain their livelihoods,” said Saw Lah Paw Wah, assistant director of Myanmar's Fisheries Department.

But even if those tools eventually make their way to fishing families, many no longer have the hands to do the job.

Families like Tin Tin Latt's face a great burden and an uncertain future.

In the first full assessment of the disaster, the U.N., Myanmar government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, this week warned of a second emergency unless $1 billion is forthcoming over the next three years from international donors.

It said 450,000 homes were destroyed, while 4,000 schools and 75 percent of health facilities were damaged.

“The worst of the crisis is over but we are still in a state of emergency. People live in a very precarious condition now. If we fail to sustain the recovery efforts, they may face a second emergency,” said Puji Pujiono, a member of the ASEAN assessment team.

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