Arakan State Suffers Two-Thirds of Flood-Related Fatalities Nationwide

By Moe Myint 7 August 2015

RANGOON — Nearly two-thirds of all deaths linked to widespread flooding in Burma in recent weeks have occurred in western Arakan State, according to the state government’s office director Moe Hein, who told The Irrawaddy that the death toll in the northern part of the state alone climbed to 55 on Thursday.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, flooding had killed a total of 88 people across the country as of Friday. The Irrawaddy sought more information from Moe Hein on which townships in Arakan State had been hardest hit, but the official said he was busy handling the visit of President Thein Sein, who arrived there on Thursday.

Khine Pyi Soe, the vice chairman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), faulted the regional government for his state’s disproportionately high death toll, saying officials had failed to give the public sufficient warning ahead of Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in neighboring Bangladesh late last month but nonetheless drenched Arakan State for days.

The senior ANP leader added that the need for relief aid in the state remained high.

“All they can do at the moment is to pick up the dead bodies and provide a small amount of rice to the many flood victims,” Khine Pyi Soe said. “I don’t believe the statement of the government; I think maybe the deaths will approach almost 100.”

The state government has said that seven of Arakan State’s 17 townships were affected by Cyclone Komen, which destroyed several community buildings and damaged farmlands. A statement by the state government said about 200,000 paddy fields were inundated and 5,000 cattle were killed.

All told, the state government estimated damages linked to the cyclone and attendant flooding at 35 billion kyats (US$28.4 million).

Although relief groups have sprung into action in the wake of the storm, support to flood victims has been hampered by damaged road links and other logistical challenges.

The director of the Arakan Social Network, Khin Zaw Win, said his group had been deployed to provide relief supplies in 62 villages in Minbya Township, but he added that with the ASN’s limited resources and unpassable roads hindering delivery of aid, local populations’ needs—most urgently potable water—continued to go unmet.

“Ponds are dirty and these should not even be used to feed animals,” he said.

Minbya Township administrator Aung Naing told The Irrawaddy on Friday that his jurisdiction had recorded 16 flood-related deaths, but that the situation was improving as waters began to recede.

In northern Arakan State’s Maungdaw, one of the townships affected by Cyclone Komen, local administrator Khin Maung Lwin said floodwaters there too were receding and the situation had returned to normal, but one person was killed and fish breeding ponds and drinking water reservoirs had been damaged, as were parts of the township’s coastal embankment.

According to Burma’s 2014 census, Arakan State is home to nearly 3.2 million people, including a population of more than 100,000 particularly vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have lived for years in temporary camps on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe and elsewhere.

The IDPs have lived in the camps since 2012, when violence between Arakanese Buddhists and the state’s minority Rohingya Muslims forced them to flee their homes. The majority of the IDPs are stateless Rohingya, whose movement is restricted by the government. Conditions at the camps have deteriorate over the years and their inhabitants are heavily reliant on humanitarian aid from international NGOs.

Asked about the situation at the IDP camps, Moe Hein referred The Irrawaddy to Arakan State Information Department Director Hla Thein. Calls to Hla Thein went unanswered on Friday.