RANGOON — On Thursday morning, people in Rangoon awoke to cloudy skies. With rainy season officially here, they knew it would be a wet day, at best. More likely, it would be a day of flooding.
The city of more than 6 million people is prone to flooding whenever heavy rains fall, thanks to a poorly maintained drainage system. Even downtown, people are regularly forced to wade through flooded streets after only a few minutes of rain because the drains are blocked with trash.
Earlier this year, the government boasted that it had spent more than 12 billion kyats (US$12 million) to improve the drainage system. Scenes from recent rainy days suggest that the investment has not been effective.
Thursday’s downpour lasted only a few hours, but it was enough to disrupt life in the Southeast Asian city, as most of the roads and railways connected to downtown were inundated with water. With traffic at a standstill, workers were late to the office and schools were temporarily closed in some areas.
After a few hours of rain, I found myself taking pictures at Thamine Junction, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Rangoon. Around me, public buses and cars were stopped dead in the deluge, while people were wading through knee-deep water. In houses, residents struggled to bucket out the invading rains.
Flooding at the junction did not subside until afternoon. Local people said the floods coincided with a rising tide at nearby Hlaing River, somewhat preventing the water levels from dropping.
Standing at a bus stop near the junction, a resident openly blamed the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) for failing to maintain the drainage system.
“The flooding is worse because the drainage system choked with trash. Water always overflows onto the road, even after a few minutes of rain. That shows they don’t do their job well,” he said.