Myanmar appeals for international assistance for flood relief

Flood-affected residents rest at an evacuation camp in Kalay, upper Myanmar's Sagaing region on Aug 3, 2015.
Flood-affected residents rest at an evacuation camp in Kalay, upper Myanmar's Sagaing region on Aug 3, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS/AFP) – Myanmar said on Tuesday it had appealed for international assistance to help provide food, temporary shelter and clothing for more than 210,000 people affected by widespread flooding following weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

At least 47 people have died in the floods, according to the government.  

Myanmar’s call for international aid stands in sharp contrast to stance taken when it was ruled by generals. 

The junta had refused outside help in the wake of a devastating cyclone in 2008, when 130,000 people perished in the disaster.  

While the quasi civilian government, which took power in 2011 and faces elections in November, is leading the relief effort, the military is handling operations on the ground.

“We are cooperating and inviting international assistance. We have started contacting possible donor organizations and countries,” Ye Htut, the Minister of Information and spokesman for the President’s Office said.  

He said international assistance was also needed to relocate people and rebuild communities after the flood waters retreat. With a per capita GDP of US$1,105 (S$1,522), Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in East Asia and the Pacific.  

Myanmar’s government admitted its “weak” response to floods inundating swathes of the country had hampered evacuation efforts, state media said on Tuesday, as officials warned that swollen rivers were threatening new areas.

Criticism has mounted on social media with the government, which is led by former generals, accused of underplaying the scale of the disaster and not being quick enough to warn of the looming crisis.

It prompted a rare concession by the quasi-civilian government.

“The government’s weak response to the disaster led to misunderstandings about evacuation efforts,” the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported, citing government spokesman Ye Htut.

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon began providing relief supplies to stricken areas this week. 

The minister said that the flood waters have begun to recede in Rakhine state on the west coast, which suffered some of the worst flooding after being lashed by the tail of Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh late last weeky.  

Areas northeast of the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, including Mrauk U and Minbya, were particularly hard hit.  

Video footage shot by Reuters on Monday aboard a military helicopter in Rakhine showed hundreds of people rushing through muddy flood waters to collect air dropped supplies. 

Rakhine is home to around 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims who live in squalid camps scattered across the state.  

Emergency workers were still facing difficulties in Chin State on Tuesday after the rain caused landslides in the mountainous state that borders India and Bangladesh.  

Main roads running through the state remained impassible and attempts to access cities by helicopter were hampered by the relentless downpours, Ye Htut said.  

The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, citing the Ministry of Education, said that more than 1,300 schools across the country had been shuttered due to the floods. 

Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament, has also postponed the reconvening of parliament scheduled for Aug 10, in what will be the final session before the country heads to the polls on Nov 8.  

Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been inundated by the floods, with the United Nations warning that this could,“disrupt the planting season and impact long-term food security.” 

The Global New Light reported that the Myanmar Rice Federation would halt exports until mid-September in an effort to stabilize domestic rice prices and keep rice in country.