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Win Thida Seint had a bright future to look forward to last August. The 23-year-old was heavily pregnant with her first child and she and her husband had just borrowed money to buy two pigs, hoping to increase their monthly income now that the family was expanding.
Three days after the purchase, however, disaster struck. Following days of heavy rain, flash floods hit their village in Pwint Phyu Township in central Burma’s Magwe Division one early morning, sweeping away her home, the pigs and everything else she owned.
“I couldn’t bring any belongings because of my pregnancy,” she recalled during an interview at Sipintharyar village. “My biggest fear was that I was going to lose my child.”
Eight months on and she has not been able to rebuild her small wooden house on the bank of Mone Creek and she has had to find refuge in her mother’s house in the same village.
Sipintharyar — meaning “prosperous and pleasant” in Burmese — was one of the villages that was inundated last year during the worst flooding to hit Burma in 50 years.
Vast swathes of the country were inundated between June and August, affecting 12 out of 14 states and divisions. The biggest losses were suffered in Sagaing and Magwe divisions, and in Chin and Arakan states.
Official figures showed floods killed 120 people and affected more than 400,000 households.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Burma’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Rescue and Resettlement said it had provided assistance worth nearly 686 million kyat until 27 August of last year. The government has yet to release data on how much support it has given to the disaster victims since.
International aid organisations also stepped in and launched large-scale emergency operations followed by rehabilitation programmes. The UN World Food Programme will continue its food recovery response to a total of 104,000 people until mid-2016, while the Food and Agriculture Organisation will provide assistance to around 150,000 farmers and fishermen, the organisations said in a statement accompanying a flood recovery report released in March.
It urged the government and aid groups to implement a range of measures in order to ensure food security and help communities get back on their feet. Recommendations included cash donations so that families can buy rice, free distribution of seeds, rebuilding livestock, and supplying fishing equipment.
Families like those of Win Thida Seint said they are still deeply affected by the floods and needed more support to rebuild their lives.
“I don’t expect any handouts. All I want is to be able to reestablish my livestock again,” she told Myanmar Now.
‘Struggling for daily income’
Pwint Phyu Township was hit hard by last year’s flash floods and thousands of families in the area are still trying to reestablish their livelihoods.
When the floods hit, water flowed over from two dams in the area and caused Mone Creek to suddenly burst its banks; Pwint Phyu’s town’s four wards and 205 villages around it were inundated, according to data from the local township administrative office.
Some 355 houses, 12 schools and two hospitals were damaged or destroyed, while 17,951 livestock animals and 8,317 acres of agricultural land were affected, figures also showed.
Villager Aung Kyi, 60, said he lost more than 30 chickens in the floods. “Previously, there was enough to eat for our six family members, but we are now struggling for daily income as a day labourers,” he said, adding that he earns about US$1 per day.
For many, the damage to their farmland has been severe; huge swathes of land were covered with a layer of mud that has made it impossible to replant.
“I can no longer use my land to earn an income,” farmer Aye Aye, 44, said, adding that the poor villagers lacked the heavy machinery needed to remove the top layer. If machinery is not moved in soon, they said, this year’s harvest — which is planted shortly after the first rains start — will be late or could be lost.
Heavy floods also caused the banks of Mone Creek to collapse, reducing the safety of some houses built nearby.
Phyo Phyo Mon, whose home now stands dangerously close to the banks, said, “We cannot sleep safely when heavy rains falls at night as we have experienced land erosion. But we cannot leave here as there is no empty land in nearby areas for us.”
Further assistance needed
Nay Myo Kyaw, a lawmaker in Magwe Division’s parliament, said the government or aid groups should provide cash or long-term loans so that farmers could buy livestock and have capital for farming.
Nay Myo Kyaw, who is with the National League for Democracy (NLD) and representing constituency No. 2, said the new Magwe Division lawmakers were forming several committees to study how policies and laws could be introduced to help flood-affected communities.
He said the MPs were, however, working with limited funds and capabilities, adding, “The allocated budget and technical support are major challenges for us.”
Nay Myo Kyaw said the new NLD government would prioritise environmental sustainability and disaster management in order to prevent future flooding with heavy impacts.
Some villagers complained that authorities had come to their homes to collect data on their needs, but that the aid provided fell short of what most households require to survive.
“We don’t know if we were to depend on the government or the international organisations but ultimately, we couldn’t depend on anyone,” said Aye, 44.
Local civil society groups have also played an important role in the flood response, especially early on when an outpouring of sympathy across Burma led to a large-scale fundraising campaign among the public and the private sector.
Thant Zin, who is the spokesperson for Western Ayeyarwady Development Association, said the small organisations had to end its support for affected communities along Mone Creek after its funding ran dry.
“Even though we can no longer support them financially, we are still documenting the needs of the villages as much as we can,” he said.
Parliamentarian Nay Myo Kyaw told Myanmar Now that lack of capital is hindering the rebuilding of flood-affected villages.
“It would be helpful if the new government or private sector would offer long-term lending programmes. Even if it doesn’t solve all the problems, it would make their lives much easier,” he said.