RANGOON — Civil society groups met with the Chin State government on Wednesday in the state capital Hakha to discuss ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas affected by severe flooding last year.
Fifteen representatives of Chin CSOs, who are members of a new coalition called the Chin Committee for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation (CCERR), joined representatives of the state government to hash out a more coordinated response to the residual impacts of the disaster.
The most recent data from the CCERR indicates that the flooding and corollary damages affected a total of 54,537 people in the state, which is considered the poorest administrative region in the country. A total of 5,116 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving 19,921 people displaced, according to the group’s December data.
This week’s meeting was intended to strengthen a coordinated response between civil society groups and township-level relief committees administered by the state government. Civil society actors have criticized the official response to the disaster as insensitive to the needs of affected communities and insufficient in preventative measures.
“Union and State-led relief efforts have largely excluded the voices and concerns of local communities, thousands of whom face a harsh and vulnerable future as they struggle to rebuild livelihoods, land and homes that were lost during the disaster,” said a spokesperson for the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), a founding member of the CCERR.
The concerns of those communities range from food shortages to shoddy road repair works, which some locals fear could result in future landslides.
“This year the rainy season could be very difficult,” said Salai Isaac Khen, director of CCERR member Gender Development Institute (GDI). “There is no rice for this year, as there was no rice cultivation from the mountains. How will we solve this?”
He cautioned that a new road being built from Kalay to Hakha is very wide and vulnerable to landslides, which could endanger villagers and delay deliveries of much-needed food assistance, as the remote state’s road network is limited.
After visiting a displacement camp in Hakha Township where some 1,000 villagers are temporarily being sheltered, CCERR representatives said that clean water supply was also a concern, and was likely to become more pressing as the summer nears.
The CCERR made a number of recommendations to the state government, including a comprehensive rice storage scheme and the installation of GSM communication networks in remote areas prone to disaster.
The group said that government-allocated funding for relief efforts was “too low” in the state. According to Salai Isaac Khen, Chin State was afforded only four percent of the Union cyclone response budget, despite being one of the hardest hit parts of the country. Federal relief spending should also be more transparent, he said.
Chin Chin, a CCERR member from Falam Township, said Wednesday’s meeting concluded positively, with civil society and government stakeholders agreeing to “cooperate with more transparency.”
Regarding the particular situation in Falam, where she also ran an unsuccessful campaign for an Upper House parliamentary seat last year, Chin Chin said the township’s more than 2,000 displaced villagers were eager to return home. The land on which many of the displaced are sheltering is “cracked” and “dangerous,” she said, leaving villagers concerned about landslides when the monsoon season sets in.
Rains related to Cyclone Komen struck much of central Burma in late July, causing some of the worst flooding to hit Burma in decades. The disaster claimed more than 100 lives and affected an estimated 1 million people.
Chin State was particularly hard-hit, as the heavy rains made the mountainous terrain highly vulnerable to landslides in the weeks after the storm. Damage to the state’s few roads and bridges led to acute food shortages in many villages, and the destruction of farmland left many without a source of livelihood.