KALE TOWNSHIP, Sagaing Division — After a month living in a cramped hut, San Htay still has no idea where she will ultimately end up. This much she does know: It is unlikely that she and her husband will ever return to live in the village they were forced to abandon when floodwaters ravaged western Kale Township, Sagaing Division, several weeks ago.
When The Irrawaddy met the 45-year-old, she was returning from a salvage mission, walking back from her native Maw Lite village with household possessions in both arms, and balanced precariously atop her head.
Asked what her future holds, San Htay’s answer was resignedly simple: “I have no clear future.”
That’s true for many of the 385,000 households displaced nationwide by severe flooding that began in mid-July and has since affected 12 of Burma’s 14 states and divisions.
For now, San Htay said she would wait and see what kind of land the government would provide for those without the monetary means to take an initial offer put to displaced residents of Kale Township.
“They [authorities in Kale] told us we have to deposit at least 250,000 kyats [US$195] to get a small plot of land to stay on, but those who have money have to pay 500,000 [kyats] all at once, up front. But I do not have money, and so I have not enrolled to deposit money,” she said.
For many victims of the high waters here, the uncertainty is not just about finding a new place to live. Along with homes, paddy fields have been inundated, and with this an economic engine for the region and vital source of livelihoods has been imperiled.
More than 300 households in Maw Lite village have been abandoned, with a lack of potable water and an all-covering residual mud keeping its former inhabitants away for the time being—and maybe for good.
Though it was a stretch for him financially, 68-year-old Tin Win said he had already paid the 500,000 kyats required of some to get a small plot of land to stay on.
“I can’t really afford it, but I have to think about my children’s future. So, I paid it,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Like San Htay, Tin Win returned to Maw Lite village, joining a humanitarian aid convoy from Rangoon that was delivering supplies to the region. Visiting his abandoned home, Tin Win said the scene was without personal precedent.
“Our grandfather was 90 years old, and died in that house,” he said. “As I remember it, even he had never had such a terrible experience as we are having now.”
As the waters swiftly inundated Maw Lite, Tin Win had little time to gather his belongings before fleeing to higher ground. With waters rising above the entryway, Tin Win was forced to punch a hole through his roof to retrieve spare clothes.
“I lost 600 baskets of [rice] paddy,” he said, pointing his finger toward the storehouse where the rotting rice remained.
About 150 families from neighboring Pauk Khaung village who have been staying in a temporary camp at the entrance of Kale town will soon be relocated, according to those displaced.
They too have lived for a month along the main road at the entrance of Kale, their village also hard-hit by the flooding. But rather than to offer the displaced greater certainty, it is safety that has prompted authorities to instruct the families to move; three children have been involved in car accidents since the roadside settlement was established.
“It is not safe for us to stay along the road. This is why they told us to relocate to another place,” said San Yee, a woman from Paung Khaung who has been staying along the highway in what amounts to a wall-less raised platform covered by tarpaulin.
“Cars are trying to avoid having accidents, but there are many kids here,” she added.
Pauk Khaung village was decimated by the flood, and as is a common refrain in Kale, the villagers still do not know when they might return to their homes. The authorities in Kale have hired locals to help resettle the roadside camp at a football field in Tharyarwaddy village, a 20-minute drive from the town of Kale.
The UN said last week that more than $75 million would be required through December to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the floods. For many in Kale Township and elsewhere, foremost on their Maslowian list of unmet needs is a place to call home.