Myan­mar vil­lagers fight floods with sand bags, hope

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST - BY KELLY MACNA­MARA

Myan­mar’s pres­i­dent called Thurs­day for the evac­u­a­tion of low-ly­ing ar­eas as the Ir­rawaddy river threat­ened to breach em­bank­ments, leav­ing vil­lagers with just sand bags to hold back churn­ing wa­ters that have hit much of the coun­try.

Floods from a heavy mon­soon sea­son have cut through swathes of South and South­east Asia in re­cent weeks, claim­ing hun­dreds of lives and dis­plac­ing mil­lions.

Twelve of Myan­mar’s 14 re­gions have been struck, with of­fi­cials say­ing 74 peo­ple have been killed and more than 330,000 af­fected — many forced into monas­ter­ies and other makeshift shel­ters af­ter their homes were in­un­dated.

In a pic­ture mud­died by dam­aged com­mu­ni­ca­tions, re­lief agen­cies said floods had re­ceded in some north­ern and western ar­eas al­low­ing sup­plies of food and clean wa­ter to trickle in, although land­slides were still a threat.

Parts of the cen­ter and south, Myan­mar’s main ma­jor rice-grow­ing area, are now brac­ing for floods as wa­ter drains through the vast Ir­rawaddy delta.

In a ra­dio broad­cast re­peated through­out Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Thein Sein said ar­eas near the Ir­rawaddy were at risk as the river rises “above dan­ger level.”

“As we can­not pre­vent nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, I urge fel­low cit­i­zens to move to safer places ... it’s the best way,” he said, adding Hinthada and Nyaung Don town­ships along the river were in im­me­di­ate dan­ger.

Ner­vously Watch­ing the River

That mes­sage was al­ready too late for some vil­lages around Hinthada, where wa­ters had reached the height of door­ways and res­i­dents now nav­i­gate their flooded streets by ca­noe.

“There is nowhere else to live ... where can we go?” San San Maw told AFP as she climbed from her ca­noe into her house, which she now shares with seven peo­ple, de­spite it be­ing par­tially flooded.

In the main town, which is yet to be swamped by the dirty wa­ters, the army helped res­i­dents re­in­force em­bank­ments with sand bags as dis­placed peo­ple ar­rived seek­ing shel­ter in monas­ter­ies and schools.

But the swollen river lies menac- in­gly close on the other side of the bar­ri­ers, an AFP re­porter said.

Up­stream at Nyaung Don, sand bags were piled high along the river as vil­lagers anx­iously eyed the ris­ing wa­ters.

“We are not sleep­ing at night, in­stead we watch the em­bank­ment and hope it does not break,” said 23-year-old Tun Tun.

In­ter­na­tional aid ef­forts have but­tressed the re­sponse of the army and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, fol­low­ing a rare ap­peal by the gov­ern­ment for out­side help.

But thou­sands of peo­ple are still feared stranded in rugged and re­mote Chin State af­ter days of rain caused flash floods and land­slides that swept away homes, roads and bridges.

Fur­ther south, aid agen­cies have warned wa­ter sources have been con­tam­i­nated in parts of Rakhine State, which was also hit by Cy­clone Komen late last week.

The floods have heaped fur­ther mis­ery on the state, which al­ready has tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in dis­place­ment camps — mainly Mus­lim Ro­hingya — af­ter waves of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

Con­cerns over food se­cu­rity are also mount­ing as the U.N. said more than one mil­lion acres of farm­land have been flooded, dev­as­tat­ing the sta­ple rice crop.

Suu Kyi Plea

Myan­mar is set for a gen­eral elec­tion in Novem­ber and the floods have taken on a po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion, with both the quasi-civil­ian gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion — led by Aung San Suu Kyi — at pains to show they are re­act­ing speed­ily to the floods.

The gov­ern­ment’s em­brace of for­eign help is in stark con­trast to the for­mer rul­ing gen­er­als, who re­fused as­sis­tance for weeks af­ter the 2008 Cy­clone Nar­gis, which left 140,000 dead or miss­ing.

In a video mes­sage on her Face­book page, Aung San Suu Kyi said her al­ready im­pov­er­ished coun­try will need in­ter­na­tional help long af­ter the floods re­cede.

But she also warned of the dan­gers of the dis­as­ter be­ing used as a “rea­son for up­set­ting” the elec­tion, cit­ing a con­tro­ver­sial ref­er­en­dum driven through by the for­mer junta days af­ter Nar­gis struck.

In­dia and Pak­istan have faced the worst of this year’s mon­soon with hun­dreds dead and more than two mil­lion dis­placed across the two na­tions.

More than two dozen peo­ple died late Tues­day in cen­tral In­dia when a flash flood de­railed two pas­sen­ger trains.

Viet­nam and Nepal have seen scores killed.

also

AFP

Res­i­dents com­mute on a boat through flood­wa­ters in Nyaung Don town­ship in Myan­mar’s Ir­rawaddy re­gion, Thurs­day, Aug. 6.

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