Flood Aid Ramping Up But Faces Delivery Hurdles

By Yen Saning 3 August 2015

RANGOON — As word has spread on social media of the widespread flooding that has devastated parts of Burma in recent weeks, local donors are scrambling to reach affected populations with humanitarian aid in tow, but face logistical challenges in delivering relief supplies.

Up to 50,000 people from 30 villages in Magwe Division’s Pwintbyu Township are standing pat in their inundated homes awaiting aid, according to Naw Ko Ko, a local from Pwintbyu Township who has been distributing food supplies daily to people in villages located along the Mone Creek in the division.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 people have taken refuge at the ceremonial grounds of Kyaung Taw Yar Pagoda in the township, while others have opted to remain in their flooded homes, with some refusing to leave livestock behind.

Naw Ko Ko said governmental rescue crews or aid supplies had not yet been seen reaching the area, though some helicopters had been seen overhead.

The main items needed by affected populations were rice, noodles, flashlights, drinking water, fish paste, lighters and candles, he added.

Local philanthropic groups have also responded to the crisis by collecting money on the streets of Rangoon, trying to make up for delays in the provision of government and international aid.

The Individual Philanthropic Network, an organization based in Rangoon, said it has been sending out aid supplies since floodwaters began rising last month in hard-hit Kawlin Township, Sagaing Division.

The group has distributed aid to flood victims in Pwintbyu and Kale townships, and other parts of Sagaing Division, as well as Arakan State, and says it has received tens of millions of kyats (tens of thousands of dollars) in donations.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society also took the weekend to begin collecting donations in Rangoon for flood victims, and had sent aid in the form of food and clothing to flood-affected areas.

Meanwhile, the Gender Development Initiative (GDI) has amassed food and medicine to be sent to Chin State, were major damage resulting from landslides has been reported. Overland travel in parts of Chin State is currently impossible, however, after landslides in the rugged region made access by helicopter the only option.

Naw Demona Khoo, head of GDI, said the group had sent a letter to President Thein Sein requesting that helicopters be deployed.

“We are trying to send aid through Kale. We are connecting with the Hakha rescue committee [formed of local civil society groups] and will try to send off in any way possible. … We have goods on stand-by,” Naw Demona Khoo said, adding that about 15,000 people in Hakha, the Chin State capital, were in urgent need of aid.

A flood response team headed by the monk Sitagu Sayadaw has sent relief supplies to Kale and Hpa-an in Karen State, and has plans to send off additional aid to Kyun Hla, Wuntho and Kawlin in Sagaing Division.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) has also started its own donation drive, while its chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi visited Pegu Division on Monday to meet flood victims there and deliver rice, bottled water and other supplies from her Daw Khin Kyi Foundation.

Burma’s Relief and Resettlement Department has said that more than 156,000 people nationwide had been affected by flooding as of Sunday. A state of emergency was declared by Thein Sein on Friday for Arakan and Chin states, and Magwe and Sagaing divisions.

Air KBZ and Myanmar Airways International on Saturday began offering limited free chartered flights to flood-affected areas in Kale from Rangoon and Mandalay, with those planes also carrying items from donors and NGOs.

State-run Myanmar National Airlines said it had increased the frequency of flights being offered to Kale from Rangoon and Mandalay, and would carry donated relief supplies free of charge.

The Burmese government, meanwhile, has announced that two of its three international airports were preparing to field international relief supplies.

Burma’s Information Minister Ye Htut posted on his Facebook account on Monday evening that the Ministry of Transport had designated Tada-U International Airport in Mandalay as the primary hub for aid supplies and Naypyidaw International Airport as a secondary drop-off point.

Myint Htay, an assistant general manager from Tada-U International Airport, told The Irrawaddy that a committee had been organized to handle international aid arriving at the airport.

“They will unload, check and send the relief to relevant relief organizations,” he explained.

Ye Htut said in his post that international aid was beginning to trickle in, and relevant ministries were now collaborating with international organizations in accordance with Burma’s 2013 Natural Disaster Management Law, which includes provisions on international involvement in relief operations.

“Today, assistance from China was delivered by the Chinese ambassador personally,” he said.

With additional reporting by Kyaw Hsu Mon.