YANGON: Tens of thousands of people huddled yesterday in monasteries and other makeshift evacuation centres in remote areas of Myanmar cut off by deadly floods, as rescuers struggled to deliver desperately needed aid. Heavy seasonal downpours have caused devastation across large parts of South and Southeast Asia in recent weeks, claiming hundreds of lives and displacing millions.
In Myanmar, international aid efforts accelerated yesterday to meet the widening crisis following an appeal from the government for help. Tens of thousands of people remain stranded in Myanmar’s rugged and mountainous western border regions after relentless rains caused flash floods and triggered landslides swept away homes, roads and bridges. The official death toll rose to 69 with more than 260,000 affected, Phyu Lei Lei Tun of the ministry of social welfare told AFP Wednesday. The floods severed communications across large areas of the country, which is roughly the size of France.
But information is starting to filter back from remote regions where people are seeking food and shelter in monasteries, schools and mosques. The hilltop Chin state capital of Hakha, home to about 40,000 people, is still only accessible by helicopter a week after a series of landslides saw walls of saturated earth collapse onto homes and roads. “The mountainsides collapsed-in some areas the whole hill collapsed in the flood,” Jacob Thang, of the local rescue committee, told AFP by telephone. About 6,600 people were taking refuge in temporary shelters either too afraid to go home, or with no house to return to, according to Thang. They have food for the coming days, but illness is striking the overcrowded camps, he said.
“Many people are traumatised. There are cracks across about a third of the city’s streets, so there could be more landslides. People are really afraid of more rain,” he added. In cyclone-battered Rakhine state, where at least 41 people have died, whole communities remain cut off even after floods retreated, with waterways clogged with debris and roads waterlogged. An AFP photographer travelling yesterday with one military relief helicopter say scores of residents gathered as food and water was unloaded.
Attention is now turning to the country’s low-lying Irrawaddy delta region as deluges from the north drain to the sea through the country’s rivers, with authorities relocating residents from downstream areas. State media sounded the alarm for residents near the Irrawaddy river, which was expected to exceed danger levels in parts of Magway region Wednesday. “Elderly people, women and children have begun evacuating from vulnerable areas,” according to a report in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Myanmar this week made a rare appeal for overseas help, in contrast to Cyclone Nargis in 2008 that left 140,000 dead or missing and saw the generals running the country then refuse outside help for weeks. This time China, Japan, Australia and Norway have already pledged donations, as UN agencies stepped up their response to flooding they have described as a “major natural disaster”.
Speaking on the sidelines of a regional summit in Malaysia, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his condolences over the “extraordinary losses of people in the floods”, adding a US relief package would soon be announced. The current quasi-civilian government has admitted it has struggled to reach remote communities.
Myanmar military helicopters and commercial airlines have helped to deliver aid provided by the UN’s World Food Programme in recent days. WFP has said some 150,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance, estimating it needs an additional $2.5 million a month. In a nation where philanthropy is deeply woven into the social fabric, ordinary people have organised rock concerts and taken to the streets to raise money for those affected.
Members of the nation’s burgeoning tech community have also built websites and apps for advice on donating and current flood locations. Across the region, hundreds have died and more than two million people have been affected, with India and Pakistan bearing the brunt of the devastation, while Vietnam and Nepal have also seen scores killed. – AFP