In Pictures—Burma's Delta Deluge

Hpyo Wai Tha The Irrawaddy

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous line, “Water, water everywhere,” was the only phrase I could utter in shock as we navigated through the first village of our tour.

The whole area was inundated for as far as the eye could see. Every house was on stilts, but their floors were just inches away from the water. Were it not for the huge, partially submerged haystacks, one could have easily thought that we were in a fishing village. In fact, we were in the middle of more than 10,000 acres of flooded farmland, in an area where a nearby river rose four feet above its danger level of 17 feet last week, affecting more than 80,000 people.

“The water is now receding because we haven’t had any rain for two days,” said one of our guides, his voice bringing me back to my senses and reminding me to start clicking the shutter release button.

Then we came to a village monastery-cum-temporary relief camp where we were greeted by dozens of flood victims. Leading into the monastery was an arch that was probably about 10 feet high. The water reached almost all the way to the top. It gave some idea of how deep the water was, and was enough send a chill up the spine of anyone who couldn’t swim.

The villagers shared their experiences with me while well-wishers unloaded relief supplies. Most of the housewives told me that they were unable to cook because their kitchens were submerged. “We only ate rice and salt for today lunch,” said one mother of two.

The rising water has taken a toll not only on humans, but also on cattle. Cut off from their pastures, the poor animals are confined to cowsheds on higher ground until the water subsides completely, with nothing to do but chew their cuds.

After visiting two villages, I noticed that the majority of the flood victims I talked to were women. So where were the guys? Were they off to Malaysia, joining a stream of rural folk who had left their farmland behind in search of a better life? In the third village, a woman answered my question: “They’ve gone fishing! That’s their job when they’re not farming.”