Irrawaddy Delta Braces for Upstream Floodwaters’ Arrival

By Yen Saning & Kyaw Hsu Mon 6 August 2015

HINTHADA & NYAUNGDON TOWNSHIPS, Irrawaddy Division — Residents and emergency workers in Irrawaddy Division girded for rising water levels on Wednesday as the government warned that a torrent of floodwaters inundating Upper Burma in recent weeks was headed to this fertile delta region.

Among those overseeing flood preparations on Wednesday in the division’s Hinthada Township was senior Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) parliamentarian Htay Oo, who was in the area to register to run for re-election in the constituency.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy as he supervised a group of relief workers busy piling sandbags, Htay Oo, the ruling party’s general secretary, told The Irrawaddy that he would again seek voters’ blessing in the township of nearly 340,000 people, where he has served as a Lower House lawmaker since 2011.

He said it had been about three years since waters had reached the level they are approaching this week. Local Hinthada Township authorities have instructed volunteers, military personnel and other able bodies to pile sandbags along the banks of the Irrawaddy River round-the-clock, under the supervision of the local Irrigation Department.

On Thursday morning, water levels on the river reached 1,449 cm, more than a meter above the designated “danger level” of 1,342 cm.

But Htay Oo on Wednesday expressed confidence that the necessary preparations were being made to prevent the kind of widespread inundation that has affected townships elsewhere in Burma.

“We have full control of this,” Htay Oo said. “Besides, about 50 workers from the USDP are also volunteering with the help of some youths. Hundreds of military men are also on standby.”

The ruling party lawmaker said efforts to bolster the swollen river’s banks would continue until the high water levels receded, as the country’s largest waterway slowly empties its swollen contents into the Andaman Sea.

“We are doing this to reassure,” he said of the sandbags. “Our first, primary duty is to prevent. There are about 22 village tracts along these banks, with about 40,000 people. As water levels have risen higher than normal, they couldn’t live [at their homes] anymore. They all moved here.”

On Thursday, military commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing visited Hinthada Township to distribute relief supplies to flood-affected victims.

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, 74 people have been killed and 330,191 displaced nationwide as a result of floods that began in mid-July.

Elsewhere in Irrawaddy Division, some residents of Nyaungdon Township southeast of Hinthada have also moved to higher ground at the urging of authorities.

The government announced on Tuesday that the Irrawaddy River at Nyaungdon Township had approached dangerous levels, reaching more than 25.5 feet above the river bottom, with locals at particular risk due to the township’s location at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Pun Hlaing rivers. River water levels in the area are normally 22-23 feet.

Elderly residents, women and children began moving to temporary shelters on Tuesday, according to Win Kyi, chairman of a local development group.

“Waters from the Irrawaddy River and Pun Hlaing River are flowing strongly at the moment, that’s why we’re preparing and have alerted the town,” Win Kyi said.

Civil service personnel, police officers, firefighters, social organizations and local residents are all pitching in to attempt to mitigate any damage that might arise, blocking holes in the river embankment through which water might seep into the town; piling bags of sand at places where embankments are low and vulnerable to breaches; and informing local residents of what to do if the river’s banks are breached, using loudspeakers to spread the message.

About 600 soldiers from Rangoon Division have been sent in to help with flood preparations in Nyaungdon Township, home to about 215,000 people.

Eleven relief camps have been opened for displaced residents and as of Wednesday morning, more than 2,100 people from 500 households had moved into monasteries, religious halls or the houses of relatives.

San Win, a resident of the township’s Quarter No. 4 who has been volunteering to help with flood preparations, said that floodwaters had passed through some quarters since Tuesday.

“Some villages around Nyaung Chaung Tha have already been flooded, and villagers have come to camps,” he said, adding that more than 130 people were housed in schools and monasteries in his quarter, arriving from villages surrounding the town of Nyaungdon.

“We’re providing food and water to them,” he said.

Win Kyi said the highest water level in recent memory occurred in 2004, when it was measured at 26.1 feet, a level that had yet to be surpassed as of Thursday morning. Twenty-seven out of 44 village tracts had nonetheless seen moderate flooding, he said.

“If there is no more rain and the current water level goes down, it will be OK,” he said. “If not, it will be a danger when water flowing from Upper Myanmar comes. We’re in wait and see mode.”

Yen Snaing reported from Hinthada and Kyaw Hsu Mon reported from Nyaungdon.