Irrawaddy residents abandon flood-racked towns

Villagers across Irrawaddy Division are abandoning their homes in droves after Burma’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology warned that floodwaters would remain well over danger levels in the days ahead.

Relief centres now house thousands in the latest region to be hit by this season’s torrid monsoon, which has left 88 dead as of Thursday, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In its latest dispatch on Wednesday, Burma’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH) projected a continuing rise in water levels. Floodwater has already reached between 2.5ft and 3ft in the towns of Henzada, Zalun, Seiktha, Ngathaingchaung and Madauk in the Irrawaddy delta, with similar levels recorded in the central Burmese towns of Nyaung-U, Minbu, Magwe, Aunglan and Prome.

[pullquote]”Some villagers apparently had not eaten for more than a day”— Ma Zin, relief worker[/pullquote]

Villagers in the Irrawaddy delta town of Nyaungdon have been issued with a ‘yellow level’ weather alert by the DMH. The warning gave time for people to flee their homes, according to local resident Tin Htay.

“As the water continues to rise well above the danger level, we are building barriers with sandbags. But they won’t be much use when the floodwaters hit the town,” he said.

“Many residents in the town have closed their shops and businesses and fled to Rangoon and such. Almost 30 villages in the area have been inundated.”

Large stretches of the roads leading into the village have been inundated, making access extremely difficult for relief workers.

“The water level in the villages was as high as an average man’s height – it is particularly dangerous for children,” said one recently arrived aid worker on Thursday. “The villagers will soon run out of drinking water. Their toilets have also submerged and I don’t know how they will cope with that. We went to the village of Shwedingakyun yesterday and found out we were the first group to arrive there to provide relief.”

Across Burma, many of the now 313,000 flood-affected persons are relying on Buddhist monasteries for food, water, shelter and other basic needs. Monk U Wimala is providing relief in the town of Ingapu. He said floodwaters in the town are at chest height.

“The situation is very bad in some areas that are no longer accessible by land. We have had to get there by boat. There’s a shortage of clean water in these areas, meaning they need water purifying agents and ready-made meals,” U Wimala said.

Meanwhile in Henzada [also spelled Hinthada], residents are bracing for a predicted surge.

“The water has not yet reached the town. The local embankment broke open in parts, but we have managed to fix that. The water volume is too high for the embankment to bear. We are keeping it constantly under watch and keeping our tools at the ready, in case of any more breakage,” said a Henzada resident.

Having already suffered some of the worst flooding along Burma’s central river region, water-wrought hardship in Monyo, Pegu Division, continues.

A relief worker named Ma Zin said six villages in Monyo Township, which sits on the east banks of the Irrawaddy River, remain submerged and locals are in urgent need of food, water and medicine.

“We are aware that some children in the area have been falling ill – locals are mostly worried about waterborne diseases such as dysentery as they lack clean water to drink.

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“They are also requesting dried food,” said Ma Zin. “We have been delivering meals to flood-affected areas but there are many remote villages we still can’t reach. According to those who went there, some villagers apparently had not eaten for more than a day.”

As rains and the bulge in the Irrawaddy River’s water level have moved south, towns in central and upper Burma are taking stock of the damage. The National League for Democracy’s general secretary in Magwe Division, Nay Myo Kyaw, said rehabilitation efforts have begun in the town of Sidoktaya after floodwaters receded there.

“It has been sunny here now and the rain has stopped,” he began. “The water has subsided in most areas except for one neighbourhood in the town. Residents have been returning to the village from flood shelters on the nearby hills to clean up their homes left covered in silt,” he said, adding that around 800 families still remained in relief shelters nearby the town.

An aid worker providing relief in Pwintbyu town, Magwe, said locals there need assistance with sanitation.

“Their outhouses have been swept away in the current, and cesspits are buried under silt so they need bed pans, or more importantly, money,” he said.

Burma’s largest city has not been spared from the disaster. In Rangoon’s Okkan Township, a local man said the water level in the area rose to 1.5ft on Wednesday and continued to rise to 2ft as of the morning on Thursday, provoking panic among residents living on the riverbank.

 

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