Myanmar (Burma) - On the Site of Emergency Assistance after Cyclone Nargis

AAR JAPAN received many donations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar (Burma) in May 2008. As we delivered relief supplies to the cyclone’s survivors, we conveyed our many supporters’ heartfelt hopes and wishes for recovery. Kazumi KUBOTA participated in the relief effort as a project coordinator in AAR JAPAN’s Myanmar office until the project’s conclusion at the end of August 2010. She reports on AAR JAPAN’s aid activities, expressing appreciation for all of the support we received.

One Year after the Cyclone, People were Still Struggling

I became a project coordinator in AAR JAPAN’s Myanmar office in August 2009, roughly one year after cyclone Nargis ravaged the nation. While it should have been the end of harvest time in the southern delta, cyclone damage prevented the villagers from harvesting any crops, and they were scraping by day-to-day. The paddy fields had been damaged by seawater, the locals’ means of livelihood such as fishing tools and livestock had been washed away, and many people were struggling under heavy debts. To address this catastrophe, AAR JAPAN initiated a project to encourage the recovery and improvement of people’s livelihoods in the disaster area. We provided fertilizer and rice seeds to farmers, fishing tools to fishermen, and livestock to households that had largely been getting by as day workers.

It may seem a simple thing to provide disaster victims with daily necessities such as tools, materials, and livestock, but bringing about improvement to people’s daily lives is not easy. The key is the people who are involved. AAR JAPAN carried out its relief efforts with the hope that our assistance might help the beneficiaries.

The scene right after the cyclone hit. It caused 138,000 dead/missing (estimated by Myanmar (Burma) government) and about 2.4 million victims (estimated by UN).

Relief Supplies are Nothing More than Things, unless…
Wholesalers in Myanmar often delivered products of lower quality than the ones we ordered. In response, AAR JAPAN staff went to shops to check the quality of fishing nets and rice seeds one by one every time we made an order, often working until late at night. We took great care to ensure that the products were good enough to distribute to the disaster survivors. It must have been a strange sight to see a group of locals and foreigners checking on fishing nets and rice seeds on the floor late at night. Wholesalers and staff from other NGOs sometimes came to have a look at the curious scene. However, wholesalers who saw our dedication became cooperative, and never gave us low-quality products again.
If we merely deliver supplies and tools, they are no more than things. It is up to the people who receive them to use those things effectively or let them go to waste. The beneficiaries made great efforts to maximize their benefits, sharing their knowledge and techniques with one another as they shared the tools among them. The greatest achievement of the relief effort was that the beneficiaries became the main actors in reconstructing their own lives.
Each tool, fishing net, and rice seed represents a wish of hope from supporters in Japan, the staff of the Myanmar office, and many others. I am sure that those wishes have reached the beneficiaries, and that AAR JAPAN’s relief supplies have given them the power to step forward into a brighter future.

Kazumi KUBOTA (right), along with other staff from AAR JAPAN’s Myanmar office, holds a fishing net after checking stitches in the mesh.

Kazumi KUBOTA (right) and Sayako NOGIWA of the Tokyo office (left) deliver a pig to a disaster survivor.

Kazumi KUBOTA, AAR JAPAN Myanmar (Burma) office (former)
After finishing her MA in development studies and education in the U.K., she worked at a diplomacy mission and joined AAR JAPAN in August 2009. (Born in Tokyo)