As Flood Waters Begin to Recede in Pwintbyu, Locals Eye a Slow Recovery

By Lawi Weng 5 August 2015

PWINTBYU, Magwe Division — As flood waters recede in Pwintbyu, locals are beginning to filter out from their places of refuge to survey the damage.

Some use motorbikes to search for relatives while others trudge down muddy streets that only a day or so previously were fully submerged, carrying babies and their belongings on their backs.

Tree branches and other debris litter the roads of the town in central Burma’s Magwe Division—one of four regions the government declared a disaster zone over the weekend.

The flooding shuttered local government departments and around 200 students from the local university had to be evacuated by Burma Army soldiers to escape rising flood waters.

The mother of one student who spoke to The Irrawaddy outside the university said she came from Salin Township to find her son after she heard the students were trapped by flooding. She was relieved to hear of their evacuation.

Pwintbyu was inundated on the night of August 1 when one of the town’s dams broke its banks after torrential rains in recent weeks, locals said. Villagers sought shelter on higher ground as the waters rose and their homes were swamped.

Pwintbyu Township is the main producer of rice in Magwe Division and, after whole swathes of the area’s paddy fields were flooded in recent weeks, farmers have been left to contemplate how they will recover this season’s yield.

‘Our House is Still Under Water’

Some of those displaced are heading back to their homes while others remain at Buddhist monasteries or in makeshift shelters on roads adjacent to inundated paddy fields, waiting for the waters to further recede.

Aung Ko Oo and Win Min, from a village in the east of Pwintbyu Township, had to leave their work on a paddy farm to seek shelter in a local monastery for a week. All of the estimated 150 houses in their village were submerged.

“Our house is still under water, but it has emerged a little. That’s why we decided to go home,” Aung Ko Oo told The Irrawaddy as the two men, with smalls bags of clothes and a bicycle, set out on the one-hour walk to their village.

Fortunately a dozen of the two men’s family members were given a free ride ahead of them by a local on a motorbike with a sidecar.

“We will stay nearby at a train station so we can clean our house when it’s the right time,” Aung Ko Oo said, adding that the first time he went back to check on his house, he found scorpions and snakes inside.

The two men said they did not have rice to cook, but would have to get by with noodles. Aung Ko Oo said that while there were ample supplies of rice and other food at the shelter where they stayed, authorities did not provide any to the departing families.

“They only gave me two bottles of drinking water after I told them I needed it for praying at the house,” he said.

There are four main camps set up for displaced residents in Pwintbyu, but many were forced to bunker down in makeshift shelters which local aid donors have had difficulty accessing.

In Need of Support

Six miles east of Pwintbyu, there are still many areas cut off from local aid groups, where access roads remain impassable.

Community leaders in Inn Taung village said they had not received a visit from aid groups in recent days and were forced to travel to Pwintbyu to request supplies from local donors.

“We just got some bags of rice,” said community leader Soe Lwin. “We have not received food over the last three days. No aid group has come to our area.”

The local leaders took The Irrawaddy to an area of the village where many local families were camping in rudimentary shelters, alongside their cattle, with little food to eat.

In nearby Zaung Chan Khong village, locals are doing their best to support those worst affected by the floods. Volunteers in the village cook food and deliver it to those in need, said Naw Ko Ko, who has been distributing food supplies daily to people located along the Mone stream which runs from the dam that broke on August 1.

“We took boats and drove two to three hours on our food deliveries. There are still many villages under water, including those near the Irrawaddy River,” Naw Ko Ko said.

“There are still some people who stayed in their houses despite the water and we have even heard of people who are trapped. We need to find their location and rescue them.”

In Inn Taung village, locals expressed concern that some people with connections to township authorities were trying to control the delivery of aid and possibly creating unnecessary bottlenecks.

“We are people who are suffering. We need food now,” Soe Lwin said. “We told [local authorities], do not block aid. Let it come directly to our community.”