One month on, emergency relief still needed in flood-struck Myanmar

Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara
Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara
Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara
Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara
Emil Helotie

One month has passed since heavy monsoon rains and Cyclone Komen caused severe floods in Myanmar.

The farmland bordering the village of Yay Dar Gyi in the southwest Myanmar area resembles a lake. The paddy fields have been engulfed by a mass of water that still reaches up to six feet high in some parts. Although the water level is now gradually receding, new heavy monsoon rains might still worsen the situation in the southwest delta region of the country.

– There is a risk of new flooding in September in the Irrawaddy delta, says Dr Aung Kyaw Htut, Deputy Secretary-General of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. He is visiting a Red Cross team at work in the Kayaung Gone Township to assess the situation. 

Around Kayaung Gone 82 evacuation camps were set up in monasteries and schools to house over 3,000 people fleeing the floods. Red Cross volunteers are supporting people in some of the camps by cooking meals and distributing food and other personal hygiene items.

– While emergency relief is still needed in the southwest of Myanmar, the Red Cross has already started to plan for the long-term recovery of affected communities in other parts of the country where the floods have receded and people have returned to their villages, explains Nicolas Verdy, Operations Coordinator with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) which has recently launched an emergency appeal to support the Myanmar Red Cross response to the floods.

– The livelihoods of thousands of people have been hit hard and they need financial assistance to recover. Our cash transfer programme will allow farmers to buy new seeds, fertilizers and tools for the next harvesting season, says Verdy.

People in the village of Yay Dar Gyi are used to living with seasonal flooding. To manage rising water levels, houses in the village are built on seven foot high stilts. This year the floods almost reached the full height of the stilts.

Despite the fact that the community is surrounded by water, evacuations were not needed. People here have other worries. Daw Than Nyun is one of the farmers whose rice paddy has been underwater for four weeks. Her whole crop has been damaged. Together with three other villagers, she owns 30 acres of farmland land and also provides work for day labourers from the village. Daw Than Nyun is waiting for government´s support to get a loan and buy more seeds, fertilizers and tools for the coming harvesting season.

Health issues are another concern in Yay Dar Gyi. According to the village midwife, colds and respiratory infections are common maladies as people have been living surrounded by the floodwaters for weeks.  Diarrhoea has not been identified yet but the risk remains high in the conditions where two of village´s wells are currently unusable because of the flooding. The Red Cross has stepped in with temporary measures to prevent the spread of waterborne disease by distributing water purification sachets and hygiene kits in the village.

Daw Than Nyun, together with many other villagers, listens carefully when Dr Aung Kyaw Htut explains the principles and activities of the Red Cross. Many of the group express an interest in joining as volunteers.

– A Red Cross volunteer group in the village could be trained to give first aid and promote good hygiene practices like hand washing and water purification. It is important to have trained volunteers in such disaster-prone villages,  says U Myrit Ngwe, from the Irrawaddy branch of the Myanmar Red Cross.

In many parts of Myanmar, the value of trained Red Cross volunteers has become distinct during the severe flooding.

Dr Naign Naign, Deputy Director in the Myanmar Red Cross Health Department, shares an encouraging story from the Pwint Phyu Township, Myanmar Magway region. Located on the pathway of flooded river, many villages in the area were badly affected and majority people have to leave their homes for a while.

– I was very proud to hear how actively and effectively the community volunteers were helping in the affected area. They started to respond immediately, help people to evacuate and give first aid. They were also cleaning the village after the flooding eased.

Red Cross volunteers in Magway were trained during 2007–2010 through the support of IFRC and Finnish Red Cross. The programme aimed to improve the capacity of communities to build a safer, healthier and more resilient community. Activities and trainings included first aid, water and sanitation as well as disaster risk reduction like building flood barriers on river banks. Similar community training is currently ongoing in Kayah state, eastern Myanmar.

– It´s great to see how capacity building in communities really pays off. Even years onwards, Dr Naign Naign says. 

Text: Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara, Myanmar