Flooding Displaces Hundreds in Burma

By Zarni Mann 17 September 2013

RANGOON — Hundreds of families have been forced to relocate in central and northwest Burma due to flooding of the Irrawaddy River and the Myitnge River.

Flooding has displaced more than 500 households in Mandalay Division and Sagaing Division, according to a resident and village administrator in Mandalay’s Amarapura Township. He said villages along the riverbanks had relocated to areas with temporary tents but faced a shortage of clean water and food, as parts of the road leading to Mandalay, a commercial hub, had been blocked by water.

“Flooding began in the villages on Saturday, and the water has since risen to six feet [1.8 meters] high, so nobody can live here,” the administrator, from the Shwe Lay area, told The Irrawaddy, asking to remain anonymous. “Some donors came and gave us water and food, but we still need to get clean water. We have moved from the village to temporary tents on higher land, while others have gone to stay with relatives.”

In the temporary tents along Sagaing-Mandalay Road, flood victims said their fields have been flooded and they worried that poor sanitation at their temporary shelters could lead to illness.

“It is very difficult for us to find a toilet, so we are afraid we might face an outbreak of diarrhea,” said Aung Kyaw, another resident from Shwe Lay. “Our croplands are also under water, so we’re worried about our livelihoods. We don’t know how long this flooding will last. If all the water recedes, it will take at least four months to rebuild our homes and our lives.”

Local residents say the rivers have not flooded on such a scale since 2003, when water levels rose to more than three meters. Many blame a nearby dam project for the current flooding.

“Since the Ye Ywar dam was constructed, water flows with force when we have heavy rains,” Aung Kyaw said.

The flooding has also affected professors and students at Yadanabon University in Mandalay’s Tadaroo region. The road leading to the university is partially covered with water, as is the university compound, creating problems for students who are currently sitting for exams.

“The road is blocked terribly and it’s difficult to move around,” a student said. “First we thought the exam date would be changed, but now we have to go to the exam room by walking through dirty water, and we have to sit through the exam all wet so we can’t concentrate.”

The road to Taung Tha Man Lake in Amarapura Township has also been blocked.

Meanwhile, travelers have been urged to stay away from the ancient city of Inwa, a major tourist attraction in Mandalay Division, until flooding recedes.

“For days we have not been able to send tourists to the area,” a Mandalay-based tour operator said. “All the roads in Inwa were flooded—even horse carts can’t get around. We need to apologize to travelers and all the sightseeing trips to Inwa that have been canceled for at least two weeks.”

Meteorologists say heavy rains in Upper Burma are the main reason for the flooding.

“Heavy rains in Kachin State, Shan State and Upper Sagaing Division, as well as heavy rainfall in Mandalay Division, increased the water level of the Irrawaddy and Myitnge rivers”, said Dr. Tun Lwin, former director-general of Burma’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH).

“Although monsoon season is about to end in the country, there will be still more rain. Since this year is the year of flooding for the country, we need to be on alert until the first week of October. Flooding will seriously affect the delta.”

According to the meteorology department’s official website, the water level of the Irrawaddy River in Sagaing Division rose 38 centimeters above the official “danger level” last week. Water levels also rose past the danger level in Pakokku in Magway Division and Nyaung Oo in Mandalay Division, as well as in Hinthada and Ngathaing Chaung in Irrawaddy division.

The department has forecast heavy rainfalls for the next 48 hours in Mandalay Division, Rangoon Division, Irrawaddy Division, Mon State and Tenasserim Division, as well as isolated showers in Magway Division, Pegu Division, Arakan State and Karen State.

Flood warnings are also in effect for the next 48 hours for Minbu and Magway city in Magway Division, and for Prome and Aunglan in Pegu Division.