On an Island in the Delta, Flood-Affected Locals Speak of Daily Struggles

By Lawi Weng 13 August 2015

On Ye Lar Island in the Irrawaddy delta, people shelter in their flood-damaged homes, hoping for the waters that surround them to recede so they can begin to rebuild their lives.

Many have lost farmland and almost every one of the 500 homes on the island in Irrawaddy Division’s Kyangin Township has been affected by flooding.

“We were cursed by the river this year,” said 69-year-old Ohn Kyi, stopping to wipe a tear from her cheek.

Ohn Kyi’s farmland was completely inundated and she wondered how her family would get back on their feet when the waters finally withdrew.

“I have mixed feelings when I see people come to donate food to us,” she said. “One feeling concerns the future, about how we will rebuild our life again, this is very sad to think about. The other feeling is happiness when I see some donors come to donate to us. I want to say thanks to them.”

“Look,” Ohn Kyi said, pointing to a small shrine, “I donated the food I got from [the donors] to Buddha. I wish [happiness] on all those who came to donate to us.”

Life has often been difficult for those living in the low-lying delta region due to monsoonal flooding.

On Ye Lar Island, the vast majority of people are farmers and they have no source of income while their farmlands remain inundated and their crops destroyed.

High water levels have receded but much of the land has turned to mud, hampering the movement of locals.

Only last week the water level was high enough for boats delivering aid to arrive directly to the village. Now boats pull up on the banks of the Irrawaddy River outside the main village, and locals have to carry their own supplies from there through the mud and back to their homes.

Many families living along the Irrawaddy River have been forced to relocate; now staying in makeshift shelters close to the highway, along with their surviving livestock.

Cows roamed freely along the road when The Irrawaddy drove through the area and authorities had placed small red flags at some points to indicate where water may encroach if flood waters rise.

Daily Struggles

Schools and government buildings on Ye Lar have been shuttered due to the flooding. The school classrooms’ floors are caked with mud and there was no word on when it may be reopened.

While aid groups have visited Ye Lar, the island has attracted less media and public attention in a region devastated by some of Burma’s worst floods in recent memory.

According to the latest situation report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 380,000 people had been affected or displaced by flooding in Irrawaddy Division as of August 11.

Local aid groups are crucial to providing food and supplies to the people of Ye Lar whose livelihoods have been shattered by the crisis. Some villagers sit and wait in the area where local aid deliveries arrive by boat, waiting for the next batch of supplies.

Ordinarily, local farmers grow rice, beans, onion, corn and garlic—work put on hold while farmlands remain flooded or ruined. Fishing, another local income-generator, is no longer possible at present.

Other issues are perhaps less immediately apparent, but of no less importance.

“We have drinking water and rice provided by aid groups. Our main problem is that we do not have dry timber to use for fuel for cooking,” said 56-year-old Win Myint, explaining that his usual store of dry timber was ruined.

Tin Ohn, 70, had somehow managed to retain some dry timber to use for cooking fires, however, with three other families, including her children, staying at her home, she did not know how long it would last.

“Three of my children have come to stay at my house now because their homes are under water. All their farms are under water,” she said.

Many animals were evacuated to nearby Htang Tapin village where Win Myint said he has four cows and some horses.

“Our animals will die if they have to stay on in poor conditions. Especially horses; they are different from cows. They are too weak,” he said.