In Flood-Hit Central Burma, Villagers Face Anxious Wait for Aid

By Lawi Weng 6 August 2015

PWINTBYU TOWNSHIP, Magwe Division — With many people in urgent need of food, water and medical supplies across Burma’s flood-ravaged regions, local aid groups have been at the forefront of relief efforts.

On Wednesday, The Irrawaddy accompanied a local aid group on visits to around 12 villages in Magwe Division’s Pwintbyu Township.

Based on data provided by various village heads along the way, over 7,000 people have been displaced by the flooding from among the 12 villages. The aid group was unable to reach many more villages in the area.

The group travelled by boat along the Mone creek, starting in Pwintbyu, and reached the Irrawaddy River near the town of Ye Nan Chaung in an hour. Locals here said more than 40 villages in the area were under water.

The scale of the flooding was immediately evident by the sight of water levels so high that only the tops of trees and pagodas and the roofs of houses were visible.

In Pwintbyu, water levels have receded and the displaced have begun to return to their homes. But for those who live along the Mone creek and the Irrawaddy River, the high waters have not abated.

Water Levels Still Rising

We first reached Nan Oo, near the confluence of the Mone creek and the Irrawaddy River, a village of over 60 houses, the majority of which were submerged. Some villagers were sheltering in a monastery, one of few remaining structures not overwhelmed by the floods.

But water levels are continuing to rise, according to the local abbot, who worried that the monastery would also soon be flooded. He planned to relocate to Ye Nan Chaung, a town 9 miles away.
Many of his friends have warned him to leave, Ashin Nandiya said.

“They told me state radio had announced that water levels had reached yellow point on the Irrawaddy River. That’s why they told me to leave the monastery. I am afraid as water levels have got higher day by day,” he said.

Villagers told The Irrawaddy they were worried a wave of water might flow from the Irrawaddy River and engulf the remaining houses.

Most people, especially the elderly have left the village.

“We keep sending our villagers to the town [Ye Nan Chaung],” said Htay Win, a 50-year-old man sheltering in the Buddhist monastery. “We have sent the older people already. We only let some people stay at home to take care of their properties. The main problem here is [a lack of] drinking water.”

Htay Win said the waters rose so quickly that villagers had little time to salvage their belongings. His father passed away three days ago and there was no land to bury the body in.
“We just threw the dead body in the river,” he said.

Bo Oo, another villager of Nan Oo sheltering at the monastery, said the floods were the worst he’d seen during his 48 years.

“Most of our people here are farmers. All our land is under water. We do not know when the water will go down. We do not know how we will rebuild our livelihoods again,” he said.

‘This is our Drinking Water’

Obtaining clean drinking water is a priority, many villagers told The Irrawaddy. They are also in need of Burma’s staple food, rice.

Most village heads said that local aid groups had only made a handful of visits to their villages that had been flooded for almost a week.

Soe Win, the head of Ashet Lay, a village of around 170 households, said around 700 people were displaced and those that stayed were forced to resort to boiling dirty water from the river.

He pointed a finger towards the river. “This is our drinking water,” he said.

The head of the 200-household Ye Thant Zin village explained the same predicament.

“Our people do not want to be thirsty,” said Han Aye. “So they boil dirty water for drinking in the meantime. Our most urgent need is drinking water.”

Many Burmese aid groups have come to Pwintbyu Township to aid relief efforts. However, accessing outlying areas of the township is proving difficult, with a limited number of boats available to negotiate the flood waters.

Local boat owners are reluctant to take to the fast-flowing Mone creek at present, with its depths difficult to judge.

Before the recent floods, many people lived on the fertile land along the stream, growing rice, beans, onion, garlic and other vegetables.

Many of these villages are now abandoned and submerged, their former occupants uncertain when they will be able to return.