Villagers Pinned Down by Landslides, Floods in Northern Kachin State

By Lawi Weng 4 May 2016

RANGOON — Landslides and flooding caused by heavy rains have destroyed hundreds of houses in northern Kachin State’s Chipwi Township, according to sources in the region, with rescue personnel struggling to reach the affected population.

Five villages were hit by the severe weather in Chipwi, not far from the Chinese border.

The area is isolated and remote. A landslide blocked the only major road in or out, obstructing attempts by authorities and local aid groups to reach the survivors, who have been trapped in the area for almost two weeks.

It is still unclear how many people live in the affected area, which is home predominately to the Lisu ethnic minority.

“One-hundred-thirty-five houses in five villages were destroyed on April 24,” said Zar-Ki a Lisu former state lawmaker from Chipwi Township. “Even a motorbike cannot travel on the road right now, but the Burma Army used two helicopters to transport the injured and bring aid to survivors on April 30.”

Some members of the Kachin State government are waiting to enter the disaster area, according to Zar-Ki, but they have to wait for the road to be cleared to gain access to the valley.

No one was killed in the natural disaster, he said.

Heavy rainstorms and wind felled a group of trees that then clogged a nearby river, acting like a natural dam. When the flow of the river burst through the tangle of fallen trunks, it created a flash flood that inundated the villages, Zar-Ki said.

The area has experienced intensive logging by a Kachin militia, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), according to Zau Lai, a former Lower House parliamentarian from the National League for Democracy (NLD).

“The deforestation in the area has created ripe conditions for landslides,” said Zau Lai. “I warned the people many times about the natural disasters that can occur due due to logging, but they did not believe me.”

The area has been at peace since 1990, when the militia signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. Since then, the NDA-K has generated most of its income from logging.