Interview

Social Welfare Minister: Deforestation and Exploitation of Resources Contributed to Flooding

By Htet Naing Zaw 3 August 2016

As Burma once again experiences serious flooding, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has invited civil society organizations (CSOs) to join the ministry’s relief and rescue efforts. The ministry is set to meet CSOs in Mandalay on August 6 and has invited organizations from Kachin, Chin and Shan states, as well as Sagaing, Magwe and Mandalay divisions. Floods have affected more than 50,000 people so far, most of them in Arakan State and Mandalay and Magwe divisions. Win Myat Aye, minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Htet Naing Zaw about his ministry’s plans to address the rising water levels.

What have you been doing to respond to the flooding?

I have been inspecting the situation on the ground. I just got back from Magwe, Minbu, and Pwintphyu [in Magwe Division]. We have seen floods in towns along the Irrawaddy River. The flooding was severe in Minbu, and some villages, along with [locals’] cattle, had to be relocated. We are providing relief supplies in these places. I met those affected and comforted them.

It seems that the floods may not subisde over the next two days, so we have talk with the Magwe regional chief minister and the border affairs and security ministers to move people to safer places.

It is not that all the townships are facing flooding—only townships along the Irrawaddy River. There has been no flooding in inland towns. We have not yet declared a state of emergency, because the effect of the floods is not nationwide. When the waters subside, it will go downstream into Lower Burma, so we are doing preventative work, such as evacuating people and cattle in advance.

Does your ministry have a sufficient budget for the relief and rescue work?

We do have a sufficient budget. We also have disaster preparedness funds, and we are also cooperating with civil society organizations, but their participation is still low. Maybe it is just because the floods have not caused a serious impact.

Which places were hit the hardest?

You can check the flood mapping which we have posted on our ministry’s Facebook page and our website. We have an emergency response center and that center has published a flooding map in cooperation with international partners. It will be clearer if you have a look at the map. For the time being, Magwe and Minbu have been hit worst by floods.

What are the short-term and long-term plans of your ministry to address the flooding, since we also saw devastating floods last year?

Speaking of a long-term plan, we need to take a look back at the causes of this. Deforestation and exploitation of resources contributed to this. Waterways and tributaries have silted up, which caused floods. These things need to be solved in the long run. Our ministry is also making plans to solve it. We have dredged watercourses in Pegu and the floods there are not as severe as last year’s. The long-term solution is afforestation and dredging of watercourses. And we’ll do it, but for the time being, we have to [focus on] rescue.

The disaster preparedness central committee is led by the second vice-president and I am the vice chair. The central committee is set to meet on August 5 and the meeting will be attended by all the chief ministers in the division and state governments and concerned ministries. In the meeting, we will discuss solutions.

What is your message to flood victims?

Some Facebook users have posted the photos of last year’s floods, and in some cases, this has led people into thinking that the situation needs to be treated as a state of emergency. So, I want people to verify the news. I would like to urge them to continuously watch the announcements of Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), and Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, and our ministry.

Some users have shared incorrect news and last year’s weather predictions by experienced meteorologists, which misled the people. I want to stress that people need to verify these reports.

We have a hotline, and people can contact directly us for any inquiries round the clock: 067-404666 or 067-404777. You can enquire, send information and seek advice at those numbers. What’s more is that we have developed an Android application. We will upload it soon on our website for download. Through this app, users will be able to contact us for help.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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