HelpAge International’s country team went to the Pwint Phyu township in Magway in western Myanmar on 4 August to assist those affected by the flood in villages and camps for displaced people. The township was reported to be one of the areas most impacted by the floods. To date nobody in the area has been killed by the floods. Many people escaped with just a few personal belongings and some of their farm animals. Many were taking shelter alongside the highway where private donors and NGOs provide assistance. However, people living in remote areas may still be trapped in their homes.
On the first day of the trip, the team visited two camps in Pwint Phyu where local displaced people were sheltering. In the first camp, originally the compound of a private company, 1,283 people from 355 households across 7 villages had been taking shelter since July 29. The camp leader took disaster assessment data for use in the future recovery process.
There, the team met with Daw Hla San, 50, who had fled from Kyaung Su, a village 20 minutes’ drive from the town. She spoke of her experiences.
“The flood began on 29 July, the day before the full moon and it was too fast. It was unbelievable. Nobody paid attention to it at first since it was monsoon season. The next day, our house was surrounded by water. Our house is just outside the village. We sent other family members to the camp but we went after them the next day because the water kept rising. What is usually a 20 minute drive took us 2 hours. We travelled by bullock-cart. The army came to the village to save the flood victims. When we first got here, we couldn’t buy anything to eat and had to depend on what we’d brought from home. Our biggest challenge in the camp is taking care of older people and children since there’s not enough space for everyone to sleep inside the buildings. In the last 6 days I only slept for 2 nights. As you can see, we have to stay in the compound to get fresh air and enough space. We rely on donors for food and other basic materials. We’ve received rice, cooking oil, purified water, instant noodles, dried-fish and potatoes.
The water has slowly decreased but we can’t go back home due to the mud and the risk of snake attacks. I think we’ll be able to return in the next 3 or 4 days when the water level is lower in our village. Some people returned on 1 August as soon as the water level started dropping in order to start cleaning. The camp is polluted and there’s a bad smell because of overcrowding. There’s no toilet so we have to go in the forest behind the camp. There are only two wells for bathing. There haven’t been any outbreaks of serious communicable diseases and we are getting the medical support we need. We’re afraid of getting diarrhoea because of the poor hygiene but relieved that voluntary healthcare is available and sick people are taken to the hospital by car.
Agriculture is the main livelihood in all the nearby villages and the floods have destroyed this. The farmers will continue in the same business as this is their only one. The most immediate need after the flood is for paddy seeds, money for investment and a lot of labour in order to rebuild what was destroyed.”
The team then visited the second camp which was operated by the army. A focus group discussion (FGD) on nutrition and hygiene was held with older people and mothers, organised by the Deputy Director General of Department of Social Welfare and the programme manager of HelpAge International Myanmar. The conditions in this camp seemed better than the first and daily support for people’s basic needs was arranged by the army and external private donors. The emergency health clinic was staffed by army doctors and nurses and was open 24 hours a day. People in the camp spoke of the loss of their homes and personal belongings.
After consulting with the township’s Department of Rural Development (DRD), the emergency team decided to provide essential assistance to one flooded village which was difficult to access and hadn’t yet been reached by donors. Ku Gyi village is part of the Pwint Phyu township and almost all of its villagers had left
their homes and taken shelter on the highway during the floods. However, some older people, women and children were still stuck in the village, unable to flee their homes.
The village was an hour and a half drive from Pwint Phyu, across bumpy roads and small, broken bridges. At the highway, there was a long line of shelters filled with people and farm animals on both sides of the road. Donated items such as rice, water purification tables and purified water had to be taken to the village by boat. Only the tops of roofs and the second storeys of houses were visible above the water. The paddy fields were now part of the ocean. HelpAge International staff travelled to the village by canoe.
After the visit, the team and some villagers gathered in an abandoned house which was being used to store the donated items. One staff member instructed the villagers on how to use the water purification tablets. They conducted a short interview with the village leader, U Than Win, 54.
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is U Than Win.I’m 54 years old and I live with my wife and our two sons. Ku Gyi village is under the Kyawe-Hti village tract in Pwint Phyu township. I am the village leader.
What do you do for living?
I plant rice and beans in the field alongside other villagers. This is a typical and traditional source of livelihood for people in rural areas.
How many people are there in this village?
The estimated population is between 500 and 600 people. We don’t have the exact data but according to the voting register for the next election there are 166 women and 165 men. The total number of households is 51.
Is there a school here?
Yes, there is one primary school with about 50 students but now it is closed due to the flood.
Please tell us about how the flood began here.
The flood waters increased rapidly one day. It was on July 28 following heavy and continuous rain. The water level was increasing 1 foot per day and night respectively. It was unpredictable; so immense and widespread. We’ve never encountered anything like this in our living memory. We heard that it was because of the nearby Mone dam. The water controlled gate was opened to stop the dam from breaking under heavy rain. We thought it wasn’t going to be as serious as out past experiences during the monsoon but when we realised the extent of the disaster many had to leave their homes to seek higher shelter.
Only a few people were left in the village. There was no hardship here until now. Your organisation is the first donor to visit the village and distribute basic materials for our livelihood. Before, we shared water, food and medicine with our neighbours and family members in the shelter on the highway.
What other losses did you face in your community?
One house in the village was completely destroyed by the flood. The summer paddies which hadn’t yet been harvested were hit the worst. This has made a huge impact on our livelihoods and we need the crops to immediately start our work again after the flood recedes.
Any health problems exist here?
There are no serious diseases at the moment but I think we’ll need more prevention and treatment during the recovery period as it is possible diseases like diarrhoea will occur.
What is the situation of older people left in the village?
There are 19 older people left in the village. There are no symptoms of health problems caused by the flood. They are being taken care of by their family members but the disaster has made them uncomfortable.
Thank you for the information. Any messages you would like to share us and other responsible persons of the disaster?
Thank you HelpAge International for your concern and generosity towards people like us. We need a lot of help, especially during the rehabilitation period for us to go back to the way things were. I pray that the flood victims around the country are safe and well.
HelpAge International Myanmar is continuously working on further emergency responses, rehabilitation and the implementation of disaster management by updating the latest assessments and surveys of the flood. Future proposals and actions on the ground will be coordinated among the HQ office, regional office, and country office with the support of our international donors.