International flood relief efforts accelerated this week as the death toll rose to 69 and authorities evacuated people from new downstream areas threatened by run-off water.
Heavy seasonal downpours have lashed much of South and Southeast Asia recently, rainfall that intensified last week as Cyclone Komen tore across the Bay of Bengal.
Tens of thousands of people remain stranded in Myanmar’s rugged and mountainous western border regions after flash floods and landslides swept away homes, roads and bridges after weeks of relentless rains.
Those rescued have huddled into monasteries for food and shelter. But the full nationwide picture remains unclear, with communications across the vast but poor country severed by the floods.
Myanmar has made a rare appeal for overseas help, in stark contrast to Cyclone Nargis in 2008 that left 140,000 dead or missing and saw the generals then running the country refuse to admit to the scale of the disaster.
This time, Thailand and Japan have joined China in donating relief supplies, Myanmar state media announced yesterday, as UN agencies stepped up their response to remote areas in flooding they have described as a “major natural disaster”.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Malaysia, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his condolences over the “extraordinary losses of people in the floods”, adding that a US relief package would soon be announced.
Devastating monsoon rains have seen the official death toll rise to 69, with more than 260,000 affected, Phyu Lei Lei Tun of the Ministry of Social Welfare told AFP, adding that 41 people were killed in Rakhine state alone.
State media sounded the alarm for residents in low-lying areas near the country’s major Irrawaddy river, which is expected to exceed danger levels in parts of Magwe region as flood waters from the north drain southwards.
“Elderly people, women and children have begun evacuating from vulnerable areas,” according to a report in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which said four dams were draining excess water in the region.
Myanmar’s government has admitted that the scale of the flooding had overwhelmed local relief efforts and issued a formal appeal for help on Tuesday from foreign aid organisations.
The current quasi-civilian government has faced a barrage of criticism on social media and lingering suspicion that it is underplaying the disaster, but it has been eager to show it is mobilising. Myanmar military helicopters and commercial airlines have helped to deliver aid provided by the UN’s World Food Programme in recent days.
The Japanese government has provided relief goods including blankets and plastic sheets worth around $150,000, according to a statement from the country’s embassy in Yangon, and Thailand has pledged a similar amount of aid.
Across the region, hundreds have died and more than two million people have been affected, with India and Pakistan bearing the brunt of the devastation, while Vietnam and Nepal have also seen scores killed.
Photo of flooding in Sagaing / Coconuts Media