Thousands displaced by floods after dam fails in Bago Region


Bago Region has been hit by major floods for the second time in a month, catching authorities and residents off-guard yet again.

Nearly 50,000 people in Bago Region have been evacuated to more than 30 relief camps after a dam in Yedashe Township burst open, unleashing floods onto more than 80 villages and acres of rice fields near Mile 166 on the Yangon-Mandalay highway.

Myanmar state media reported on Monday that the Swar Chaung dam began overflowing but urged residents not to be alarmed. Then, on Wednesday at around 5:30am, the dam’s sluice gates failed. A 40-year-old woman named Daw Soe Than was swept away by the deluge, according to a recent government report on the situation, and a nearby bridge was damaged, slowing traffic on a stretch of the country’s main thoroughfare for several hours.

“This morning, almost a foot of rain fell. This [flood] is related to the monsoon,” said Kyaw Myint Hlaing, the director-general of Myanmar’s irrigation department, adding that he did not believe a flaw in the dam’s design was to blame.

Senior government officials, including Vice President Henry Van Thio, Supreme Commander Min Aung Hlaing, and minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye visited the site of the floods on Wednesday morning to deliver aid to victims and to evaluate the extent of the damage. The government has not released any official casualty figures, but an internal report says more than 10,000 homes have been damaged by the rising waters.

The floods are the second in a month to hit Bago Region. More than 150,000 people in central and southern Myanmar had to flee their homes in early August, mostly without assistance or instruction from local or state-level authorities. In one flooded village on Aug. 3, victims told Coconuts that local authorities only offered the equivalent of US$20 in assistance to each pregnant woman and mother with a child under six months old. Others were left to fend for themselves or to rely on private donations.

During the earlier floods, the Myanmar government was criticized for failing to predict the floods and only calling for evacuations after it was too late. This time around, while the damage appears less extensive, authorities seem to be repeating the same offense.

Aung Zaw Htay, a firefighter who responded to the disaster on Wednesday, said: “This flooding is much less than other floods caused by dams. There wasn’t much trouble compared to what I’ve seen. In this case, the path is clear for the water, and the villagers have had experiences dealing with it, so there wasn’t much trouble.”

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