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EMMA Pilot Test 2: Key Findings and Recommendations after Cyclone Nargis

Ayeyarwady Delta
July, 2008

Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008, leaving more than 84,000 people dead and more than 50,000 missing, including many skilled fishers and fish processors. The majority of families living in the delta are poor, with the main sources of income being fishing, casual labor, livestock and agricultural activities and small-scale trade in fish and rice products. Most houses in the area were made of thatch with leaves for walls. People's ability to cope with the cyclone's damage is limited, as food stocks were washed away and borrowing from wealthier families is no longer possible as those families have also lost income and assets.

Save the Children in Myanmar and Practical Action Consulting conducted this pilot of the EMMA toolkit in the Ayeyarwady Delta in July 2008 in order to explore how the tools and guidance could be applied in a real humanitarian emergency. The study focused on two market systems for analysis: small-scale fishing nets, which are critical for livelihoods and food security, and dhani-thatch panels, which are critical for shelter.

Most vulnerable people in the affected area depend on fisheries and household-level aquaculture for their livelihoods. As such families tend to own smaller nets and boats, this study focuses on the market system for small fishing nets. Such nets are mainly imported from Thailand with a slight seasonal variation in price due to demand changes. Competition between traders on the supply side appears to be healthy. Credit appears to be a critical service in this market system, especially for poor fishing families. Lastly, fishing licenses, which are auctioned annually, are required in the delta. The biggest impact to the small fishing net market was the loss of tens of thousands of skilled fisherfolk in the cyclone, which led to a drop in demand of 50-70% compared to the previous year. Such losses mean that many nets given on credit will never be repaid, a serious impact in such a credit-reliant market. High default rates impact actors all the way up the chain. Both households and traders report that it is difficult to get small nets on credit after the crisis, and this, rather than supply, seems to be the biggest constraint within the market system.

Dhani, or thatch, panels (made of nipa palm leaves) are the predominant material used for houses of the poor in the cyclone-affected areas. There are no plausible alternate materials for durable shelter. Harvesting of nipa palms takes place annually in some areas and twice per year in other areas. Individual households may buy panels from retailers as well as directly from wholesalers. Some wholesalers also grow and transform palm into panels. Landowners with nipa palm growing on their lands may either harvest it with hired labor or receive payment from a wholesale panel-maker for directly harvesting it. Following the cyclone, the price of thatch has increased sharply due to high demand within the region, damage and loss of stock. Most of the Nipa palms were also damaged by the cyclone, and remaining nipa leaves are being cut and used by the villagers in cyclone-affected areas for roofing. On the demand side, many individual households do not have the financial means to purchase thatch to repair houses, and many have tarpaulins that they are planning to use as temporary shelter material. They also have a preference for expenditures on livelihood activities and therefore there is not likely to be high demand for thatch in the near future.

In order to facilitate the early recovery of village-level fishing net traders, this report recommends that, where possible, donors should buy small nets from the affected villages and not attempt to bypass market chain actors by purchasing in bulk from wholesalers in Yangon. However, as the main bottleneck to accessing significant quantities of nets is obtaining credit from larger actors, donors may need to provide either credit to the village retailers or act as guarantors to wholesalers on behalf of village retailers. For the thatch market system, this report suggests providing tarpaulins to affected households as a temporary measure. Permanent thatch shelter interventions may be more appropriate in April/May, during the next thatch harvest. Longer-term livelihoods interventions will help improve the capacity of individual households to repair housing with thatch.

Report authors: 
Anita Auerbach (née Yeomans), Mike Albu, Michael Leung
Download Report (1.43 MB pdf)