SITTWE • Myanmar's government admitted its "weak" response to floods inundating swathes of the country has hampered evacuation efforts, state media said yesterday, as officials warned that swollen rivers were threatening new areas.
Flash floods and landslides caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains have taken at least 46 lives and affected about 215,000 people while submerging massive areas of the country.
Relentless downpours have been lashing much of South and South-east Asia.
Criticism has mounted on social media, and the government, led by former generals, has been 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 yesterday, citing government spokesman Ye Htut.
The government has designated four states or regions - Rakhine, Chin, Sagaing and Magway - as "natural disaster" areas and warned that flooding has begun to spread southwards as water drains into swollen rivers. The full impact of the flooding in Rakhine state has yet to emerge.
The United Nations said more than 30,000 people have been evacuated, but information remains patchy with roads damaged or inundated, phone lines down and electricity supply to large areas disrupted.
Strong winds also damaged buildings in exposed coastal camps in Sittwe that house about 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who were displaced by deadly unrest between the minority group and Buddhists in 2012.
Officials said the death toll of 46 had yet to be revised, but warned of further misery as the floods spread. "There will be more flood victims," said one official.
The government also threatened to prosecute anyone found spreading "false news relating to natural disaster with the intention of frightening people".