Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘The Most Serious Flood in 60 Years’

By The Irrawaddy 15 August 2015

On this week’s edition of Dateline Irrawaddy, meteorologist Dr. Tun Lwin and Aung Chan Tha of the Youth Philanthropic Network discuss Burma’s floods crisis.

Aye Chan Myae: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. This week, we’ll be discussing the serious natural disaster faced by Burma and the philanthropic efforts of people in response. Meteorologist Dr. Tun Lwin and Ko Aung Chan Tha from the Rangoon-based Youth Philanthropic Network will join me for the discussion. I am Aye Chan Myae.

Burma is facing nationwide flooding, and as everyone knows it is some of the worst flooding ever in Burma. Dr Tun Lwin, can you tell me the latest situation—philanthropic organizations would also like to know it as they are helping flood victims—and what preparations should be made?

Dr Tun Lwin: Looking at this flood, it first took place in Kachin State and upper Sagaing Division. Then floodwaters came down along the Irrawaddy River. The floodwaters of the Chindwin River reached Monywa and therefore the town had to desperately prevent flooding a few days ago. As you know, the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers meet in Central Burma. The water flow therefore got stronger downriver and towns like Magwe were also hit by floods as a result. And finally, the floodwaters entered the Delta.

First, it entered Pegu. Water seeped through some dams in Pegu and Prome. Then water flowed downward and reached Irrawaddy Division. Hinthada was hit hard by flooding. The water level of Irrawaddy River rose around five feet within one or two days, and reached above its danger level. Floods inundated around 14 villages in the area. The floodwater is still coming in. Floodwater is coming downstream from Upper Burma and the water level in that area will keep rising as long as the water comes downstream.

The flood still persists. The floods are currently in the Delta. Meanwhile, some new places are at risk. Since there have been monsoon rains, some places in the surrounding areas of Thaton in Mon State have been flooded. Recently, a new monsoon entered from the south through the Bay of Bengal. As usual, it went upwards from the south of Burma. The wind reached the southern part of Burma and it rained in Mon and Tenasserim, with very heavy rains in Mon. It was continuously raining in and around Thaton. Rivers are already rising there and if coupled with more rains, I would say Mon State is also at risk. Usually, the monsoon wind would go north. Afterwards, it would usually reach the Delta. If there were to be further heavy rain in the Delta… surely we don’t want any more rains as we are already faced with serious flooding, but the Delta would be at greater risk, I would say.

ACM: Dr Tun Lwin has explained the magnitude of the flood. Ko Aung Chan Tha, to what extent is your Philanthropic Youth Network is helping flood victims?

Aung Chan Tha: Firstly, we helped with flooding relief in Kawlin. We could not do any rescue work, but we provided supplies. We were prepared to do rescue work if necessary. We mainly went to the area to provide supplies. While we were going to Kawlin in the aftermath of floods, Kale was hit by floods, followed by Arakan and Pwintbyu. Floods were striking continuously and we have dispatched our teams continuously—

ACM: How many groups does the network have and how many members?

ACT: Although we are a Rangoon-based network, there are also philanthropic groups from Mandalay and there are 48 groups in total.

ACM: The members are both men and women?

ACT: Yes, men and women. The team that went to Kawlin comprised 22 members. They arrived back in Rangoon separately a few days ago. Another team went to Pwintbyu to provide help there. We at the backline manage the cash and goods donated by donors, and coordinate with those who are at the frontline to send the required things.

ACM: So, Dr Tun Lwin, philanthropic groups are helping the victims. We can see the many philanthropic groups collecting donations on the streets. As Ko Aung Chan Tha said, we can only provide supplies. Would you explain why there are heavy rains and landslides this year, as compared to previous years?

TL: This year should not be like this. El Nino—this word is a familiar meteorological term to people—takes place this year. Traditionally, the rainfall decreases, the temperature increases and the climate is humid in years when El Nino takes place. Taking a look at Asia, generally this weather pattern is taking place in other countries—the rainfall decreases and the temperature is high and sometimes there are floods. But there are two places in Asia in which the rainfall significantly exceeds the normal amount. One place is the northwestern part of Burma and the other is Bangladesh.

There have been excessive rainfalls in Chin and Arakan states and the west part of Magwe Division. Burma is located in a tropical zone. In June, the western part of Burma got the highest rainfall in the world. This is the one reason why there are floods. The monsoon entered Burma around June 8. Since then, the monsoon has been very strong every day. Therefore, there have been monsoon rains in coastal regions every day. This is the second reason.

During the monsoon season it rains heavily. The monsoon head wind was located in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal on July 14. There was a low-pressure area there and it was likely to become a storm. In the east of Burma, there lies the South China Sea and the Philippines is located in that direction. Two typhoons, firstly Linfa and secondly Halola, hit the Philippines. Usually, the storm comes to Burma after hitting the Philippines. But, it didn’t come. Instead, it went northwards. As it went up northwards, the low-pressure area in the Bay of Bengal went north as well. It went into Bangladesh and reached the Himalayan Mountains. Then, there were heavy rains in the entire region at the foot of Himalayas. It is nothing strange. It is usual. So, there were heavy rains in northern India, Bangladesh, the northern part of Burma—Kachin State and upper Sagaing Division. That day was the beginning of the floods.

Usually, if there are excessive rainfalls there, the rainfall should be low in entire lower part of Burma. We call this a situation break. Usually, such condition happens in July and we call it the July Break. We also call it a normal break because it happens annually. But this year, while there were monsoon rains in northern part of Burma, another monsoon entered Burma from its south. There were two monsoons at the same time. There were also monsoon rains in the south and gradually coming north and reaching the Delta. The monsoon rains in the Upper Burma came down and it seemed like Burma was stuck between these two monsoons. To make things worse, there was a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal and these three factors led to the most serious flood in 50 or 60 years.

ACM: There is a saying that climate depends on forests. Perhaps this is not only concerned with deforestation in our country, but it is concerned with deforestation in other countries. Ko Aung Chan Tha, how long will your network continue engaging in philanthropic works? At the moment, all those who are not affected by the floods are helping those who are affected. Rehabilitation works have yet to be done for the houses and paddy fields destroyed in the disaster. Do you have a long-term plan to help them?

ACT: To be frank, we have not yet made a decision. As the floodwaters came down into Irrawaddy Division, we were thinking about how to help the flood victims there. We have been thinking about it. This morning, one of our teams went to Hinthada and Moenyo. In our minds, we have decided to go and help flood victims for as long as donors make donations.

ACM: What about you, Dr Tun Lwin?

TL: I would like to go back to your topic. You said climate depends on forests, but I don’t think so. In my view, the climate depends on humans. Climate change is partly because of deforestation. Burma is ranked fourth in deforestation in the world. The major cause of deforestation is illegal logging. Burma is ranked fifth in illegal logging in the world. Neither logging nor illegal logging is a natural cause. It is man-made activity. So, I would like to change the mindset.

I have frequently given talks on such a topic—the climate depends on humans. Humans are the major factor in climate change. Human-induced activities cause far more serious climate change than natural causes do. In the next 85 years at the end of this century, the temperature may go up by 5 degrees Celsius in Burma and it would be a very bad situation, one of the worst in the world. No natural cause can increase the temperature by five degrees. Naturally, the temperature increases by around one degree in a thousand years. If the temperature goes up by five degrees in 85 years, it is not natural. It is anthropogenic. Human activities are the major factor. People much need to conserve the environment. By people, I mean both citizens and governments need to heed environmental conservation. There are two big environmental problems in Burma—deforestation and coal power plants. We meteorologists find these two things totally unacceptable.

ACM: As you said, climate depends on humans. Again, not only people, but governments are more responsible for it. There are philanthropic organizations like the Rangoon-based Youth Network. But there are also people who do not belong to any group but giving a hand with their conscience. Many people give a helping hand out of sympathy. Without government intervention, it is impossible to help those places that are inaccessible. We gained a lot of knowledge from Dr Tun Lwin in this discussion and I hope it will help Ko Aung Chan Tha in his activities. Thank you both.