MANDALAY – As the Irrawaddy River swells due to recent heavy rains, rising water levels are concerning to both locals and authorities in Mandalay, who are preparing for a possible flood.
The river is about two feet above the 230.74-foot alert level in Mandalay Division. Local authorities have relocated people living along the Irrawaddy’s riverbank and alerted rescue teams to stand by if the water levels continue to rise.
In the meantime, the local government has announced the closure of Yadanabon University, located in Amarapura Township, due to high levels of water entering the university compound; buildings in the area remain flooded.
“The University will be closed until further notice,” said the announcement, which was issued on Saturday evening.
“We are very disappointed by the university closure. It affects our education and, of course, the teachers and staff living in the compound are also facing hardships in getting clean water and food,” said Aung San Oo, a third year student at Yadanabon.
According to university officials, about 200 teachers and staff residing in the compound have been affected. Some have relocated, but those who are still living in teachers’ housing are in need of basic necessities.
“The university should not have been [built] here at all. This area is the region where water enters every monsoon season. Every year, the students face hardships due to this water problem. The government should consider the future of the students, and allow them to [continue their] studies at Mandalay University,” said a Yadanabon University teacher.
Taungthaman Lake Waters Rise
As the water also rises in Amarapura Township’s Taungthaman Lake, the local irrigation department decided to open the waterway to reduce the lake’s water levels on Monday morning. The move is affecting the locals who live along lake’s adjacent lowlands.
“[On Sunday] we warned and relocated the locals living on the lower region of the lake, because it is a must that we open the water gates, which are built to hold the water, to prevent the lake bank from breaking up,” said Thet Naing Tun, joint secretary of Mandalay’s City Municipal Department (MCDC).
According to the MCDC, the irrigation department is working with the rescue teams to strengthen and reinforce the Irrawaddy River bank along the city and the Taungthaman Lake’s banks.
The iconic teak U Bein Bridge, which lies in the Taungthaman Lake in Amarapura Township, was also forced to close, as the water below had nearly reached the wooden walkway.
Local government representatives said that the closure was to ensure the safety of visitors and locals, and a precaution against possible accidents related to the high water levels.
Residents of Amarapura, who are arguably the most affected by the rising water levels, say that the current water levels are higher than in past years due to development projects on the eastern bank of Taungthaman Lake, which have impeded the water from draining to other areas.
“The culture city project has been piling soil at the eastern bank of the lake to raise the bank and this affects the water flow,” said Maung Maung Oo, a member of the local Green Activity group, referring to the construction of a historic model village on Taungthaman Lake. “It shifts the water to other areas, which results in the water swelling up and overflowing into our university area and the western bank of the lake.”
‘Living On Alert’
Currently, the water level of Irrawaddy River is stalled at 232.87 feet, but locals are worried that an impending flood could displace thousands in Mandalay Division alone.
The region has a history of flooding disasters. In the 2003 monsoon, severe floods affected 35,000 people in Mandalay, and also severely damaged the U Bein Bridge. In 2013, the Irrawaddy River rose to 237 feet and more than 2,000 locals were again affected.
“Although the water level is not as high as in past years, we are living on alert and worrying about severe floods, as we have heard there will be more rain in the upper regions of the country,” said Maung Maung Oo.
In Sagaing Division, the road to the Mingun region—just west of Mandalay—has eroded due to flooding, and locals living near the Irrawaddy River bank have been relocated.
An official from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement told The Irrawaddy on Monday that townships in Mandalay, Sagaing, Magwe and Irrawaddy divisions have been inundated by rising water in recent weeks, affecting 50,613 people nationwide.
In Mandalay, over 25,000 people have been relocated. In Sagaing, the numbers have exceeded 13,400, and in Magwe, over 12,000 locals have been moved, according to the ministry.
The Irrawaddy River may reach more dangerous water levels during the next day in Sagaing’s Minbu, and over the next two days in Magwe, Aung Lan, Pyay and Seiktha, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, said on Sunday. Special precautions were recommended for people living near the Irrawaddy River bank and in low lying areas in these townships.
The department said that the water levels may remain dangerously high for at least two more days in Mandalay, Sagaing and Irrawaddy divisions.
Myint Soe, director of the Magwe divisional government’s Relief and Resettlement Department, said that over 1,000 people in both Aung Lan and Yesagyo townships, and 850 in Minbu, had been relocated for their safety.
“The water level of Irrawaddy River is continuing to rise and thus, those who live in low lying areas are moving to other places as a precaution. The farm animals in the areas have also been moved to other places,” he said, adding the department is supplying food to flood victims who are currently taking shelter in monasteries, schools and other public places.
Additional reporting by San Yamin Aung from Rangoon.