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Humanitarian Emergencies

Impressive Relief Effort Alleviating Hardship in Flood-Affected Myanmar

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS) - With the rainy season still far from over, flood-affected communities in the Sagaing Region and other parts of northern and western Myanmar are preparing for more hardships, while the government continues what the United Nations has called an “incredible” relief effort.

In a statement released on Aug. 12 upon her return from the Kale Township in Sagaing, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Dessallien referred to the people in this Southeast Asian nation of 53 million as being among “the most generous in the world”, adding she was “humbled by the spontaneous public outpouring of solidarity and assistance to flood-affected communities.”

Everyone from ordinary citizen volunteers and residents to NGO workers and celebrities have lent their hand to communities whose homes have been buried under mud and debris, and to families who have lost houses, crops, livestock and most of their belongings.

A situation report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Aug. 11 revealed that 1.1 million people have been “critically affected” by monsoonal floods and landslides since mid-July, while 689,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

The death toll as of Aug. 10, according to Myanmar’s National Natural Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), stands at 103, but on-going search and rescue operations led by the government may push the number higher.

An estimated 240,000 households have been displaced. Those living in makeshift shelters, cut away from their farmland, are now completely reliant on emergency relief supplies, from food and medicines to shelter and alternative livelihood options.

Aid workers say the biggest priority is ensuring displaced communities have access to healthcare and sanitation facilities, and the government is leading efforts to provide the necessary services and supplies.

Quoting government statistics, OCHA noted that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has so far provided over 390,000 dollars worth of food supplies, relief items and cash assistance.

“Civil society organisations, individual donors and the private sector have provided in kind and cash assistance, contributing over 435,000 dollars as of Aug. 9,” the agency added.

In a bid to ensure longer-term food security in affected areas, the government has announced plans to distribute paddy seeds and other farm machinery and equipment that will help agricultural communities to get back on their feet.

Waters are now receding in many areas, but mud and debris left behind by the floods will need to be cleared; to this end the government will issue specialized equipment, including pumps, to families who rely on the land for subsistence.

The U.N. has already poured 10 million dollars into the effort, representing half the total international response thus far. Among other things, the funds are being used to construct 10,000 emergency shelters, while an estimated 213,000 people have already benefited from food aid.

But increased financing is needed to provide additional services such as psychological counseling for people who have been deeply traumatized by the disaster, and education facilities for children impacted by the closure of roughly 1,200 schools.

While the challenge is daunting, Dessallien expressed optimism that it can be surmounted, stating that the “caring and generosity, dedication and courage” shown by both government officials and civil society “are showing the true spirit of Myanmar.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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