May 4th, 2009
02:48 PM ET

Praying for rain

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/04/art.myanmar.anniversary.2.jpg caption="World Vision relief workers travel from village to village to distribute emergency supplies. In the months following the storm, there was often not enough land in the water-logged country to distribute supplies, so aid agencies would travel by boat."]

Mia Marina
World Vision

The second day of May last year was just another day for coconut and rice farmers in Myanmar like U Myint Khine. They were building a road to improve access to a jetty, and sell crops for higher prices in bigger markets. That one small road was supposed to change their village forever.

But something else would change their village that day.

Cyclone Nargis, one of the country's deadliest natural disasters ever, tore up the coast of Myanmar and the lives of 2.4 million people, killing 84,000 and leaving another 50,000 missing. The timing was disastrous for a country dependent on agriculture.

The cyclone struck just before planting season, maximizing the damage. A million acres of rice paddy were inundated with salt water – 85% of seed stocks were wiped out and 2 million head of livestock were lost. Ponds, hatcheries and jetties were destroyed; fishing boats, nets and equipment were damaged.

That meant Nargis hit Myanmar with a double-whammy. Many fishermen and farmers were too busy rebuilding their lives after the storm to get out to sea or raise crops. And the rest of the country didn't have the food to eat or keep the economy going. Nearly a million people needed international food aid to get by.

The people who were hit directly, were hit hard. U Myint Khine says more than half of his village was out of work, and many lost family members - fathers, mothers, sisters, children. Many family breadwinners died, and afterward many others left their families behind and migrated north to look for work.

One year later, the coming crop season brings back some optimism. Farmers are preparing seeds and fertilizers and readying their fields for what they hope will be a harvest of more than enough food and plenty of livestock.

"We're coming now into the first full agricultural season since the cyclone," says Jeff Wright, emergency response manager for the nonprofit World Vision. "If the season is undisrupted and the crop is a good one, we could be seeing something of a return to 'normalcy' on that front."

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian charity organization that helps children, families, and their communities worldwide by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. One of the programs we launched after the cyclone was "food for work" to help restart the road construction that U Myint Khine and his friends had begun before the storm. Typically, such programs provide a pre-determined amount of rice or other food staple to workers in exchange for their work rebuilding roads, bridges, and buildings in the communities hit by disaster like Nargis. The road will not only help the economy in U Myint Khine's village, but children will no longer have to wade chest-deep across the river every day to attend school.

"The 'food for work' program was aimed at helping the poorest of the poor," says Adino, World Vision's field coordinator in Myanmar. "In this case, daily wage earners who were unable to find work in the field or on fishing boats could participate in this program and provide for their families."

Today, farmers still depend on the weather. Food aid must be maintained and livelihoods must be restored in order to prevent malnutrition from jeopardizing the development of children across cyclone-affected areas.

But the "food for work" program ended in April, and U Myint Khine says the village hopes the new road will help change their village for good this year, since the cyclone had stopped the road and nearly everything else last year.

Find a photo gallery of the area here.

Editor's Note: Mia Marina is World Vision's emergency response support manager for ongoing recovery efforts in Myanmar. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian charity organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360° • Myanmar
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