By Wa Lone | Wednesday, 05 August 2015
Amid criticism that the government has not done enough to relieve devastation caused by heavy monsoon downpours, including by those supposedly receiving the assistance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appealed yesterday for international aid to help bolster its efforts.
U Ye Htut, minister for information, admitted that the government’s reaction to the massive flooding has been “weak”.
“The government’s response to the floods has been limited in the face of such a huge disaster, with its flood warnings not reaching all the people,” he told state-run media yesterday, adding that there were “misunderstandings” about evacuation efforts.
Flood victims taking refuge in Taungphilar Monastery in flood-battered Sagaing Region’s Kalay township had a harsher interpretation of the official handling of the crisis. They told The Myanmar Times they didn’t receive any advance warning from the government. Flash floods unexpectedly inundated their homes in the low-lying area in what some described as the worst natural disaster they’ve seen in decades.
Where houses once stood on vast tracts of farmland in Kalay township now sits a lake, with roofs and stupa spires just barely cresting over the water.
Over 10,000 Kalay residents have been displaced from their homes to one of eight temporary shelters that have been scrambled together but still cannot accommodate all the families needing somewhere dry to sleep.
Ma Yin Su, who was flooded out of her village when the nearby Myit Ther river swelled beyond its banks, said her family has been turned away from the shelters, which are so overpacked they have no more floor space.
And though the government began air-dropping food in the four hardest-hit emergency areas – Rakhine State, Sagaing Region, Magway Region and Chin State – residents say they were not receiving enough food.
“We aren’t even getting enough daily food rations for three family members, and we have received no government support because we are not on the lists of any of the camps,” said Ma Yin Su.
An angry commenter on Facebook yesterday posted pictures of one of the air drops getting deposited in the mud.
“Sixteen bags of rice and food supplies that we cannot eat anymore,” the poster said.
U Ye Htut responded that the military drops were based on locations provided by locals in the hopes that the materials would be most likely to reach people that way. He apologised that some had been damaged or become muddy.
While the government has also pledged to help rebuild after the water level decreases, some residents flooded out of their homes said they didn’t trust the pledge given they aren’t being assisted now.
“We sold all our own property like gold rings to survive. We have no government support,” said Ko Myint Ngwe, 41, the owner of a tea shop in Nyaug Bin Ther village.
Ko Mya Aye, one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said Cyclone Nargis should have served as a lesson for the government, which was accused of being complicit – though a slow respond and initial barring of international aid – in the deaths of nearly a hundred thousands people.
“A lot of young people and students are walking through the streets begging for help for the flood victims,” he said.
But the government’s most recent call for humanitarian assistance from “international humanitarian organisations including United Nations Agencies” stands in stark contrast to the former military regime’s paranoid refusal.
U Ther Aye, the chief minister of Sagaing Region, seemed eager in fact to pawn off all the relief efforts to the international community, citing their involvement as a reason the locals’ complaints about lacking support were not his responsibility.
Pierre Peron, a spokesperson for the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Assisatance, said the appeal was not the first time the government has reached out for assistance responding to the aftermath of Cyclone Komen, but just the “widest appeal”.
“We are already responding,” he said. “We are getting access to military airplanes and navy boats in order to access affected areas.”
He added that an overall budget and appeal for donations would be compiled once needs were fully assessed, but maintained that all UN workers would be supporting the overall “government-led” response.
On August 3, however, the World Food Programme said it was “the only UN agency that received so far an official request for assistance from the government”, and in response was providing food rations to over 47,000 people out of an anticipated 150,000 who needed it.
A Chinese envoy to Sagaing Region also offered to help, to which the Sagaing Region chief minister responded, “We are still okay.” However, the President’s Office yesterday confirmed that the offer has been accepted and 10 Chinese rescue workers have already arrived.