Aid workers struggle to assess needs in flood-hit Myanmar

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 05, 2015 7:32 AM

By Alisa Tang

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid workers are struggling to reach areas in Myanmar hit by floods that have killed 69 people, contaminated water sources and cut off electricity, phone lines, roads and rivers.

More than 250,000 people have been affected by flooding triggered last week by monsoon rains, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

In hard-hit Rakhine state in western Myanmar bordering Bangladesh, rains have stopped, allowing for boat travel, and roads are gradually being cleared, said Blaire Davis, who works with Plan International in Myanmar.

Davis said her colleagues left the Rakhine capital Sittwe by boat on Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Minbya township 12 hours later, before dawn on Wednesday - a journey that normally takes three hours by boat or road.

They met government officials and were identifying the needs of affected communities.

"What my teams are seeing and hearing - it's very hard to move around and get the information they need to move forward," Davis said by telephone from Sittwe.

"Speedboats are back in play, as long as the weather stays good... As the rains have stopped, roads are cleared, and debris is being cleared from the water, we're getting much better eyes on (the situation)."

The government "is responding quickly" with helicopters going in and out of Sittwe airport, she said. "They're the first responders, we're filling the gaps where they request assistance," Davis said.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, which runs several medical programs in Rakhine, the worst affected townships are Minbya, Mrauk U, Kyauktaw and Buthidaung.

More than 4,000 displaced people in Minbya have taken shelter in 23 monasteries, MSF said.

"The entire township of Minbya is flooded – schools, hospitals, everything," Dr Zayar, a doctor with MSF, said in a statement. "All drinking water sources are flooded, too."

Residents in Maungdaw township north of Sittwe need shelter, said MSF, which was working to get plastic sheeting to the area.

NGOs, community leaders and authorities have sent water, water purification tablets, blankets, mosquito nets and soap to the displaced.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)is providing emergency assistance to flood-affected areas across Myanmar, including Bago, Chin, Magway, Mon, Rakhine and Sagaing.

"With so many areas cut off, we are still trying to get a clear picture of how these floods have affected people in Myanmar," WFP country director Dom Scalpelli said in a statement.

"Food security will be seriously affected. Thousands have lost homes, livelihoods, crops and existing food and seed stocks."

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)