Flood management and disaster mitigation measures

4 66 72By Khin Yadanar

Heavy rains have caused floods and landslides in several parts of Myanmar during this week. As a result of these natural disasters, people residing in Taninthayi and Bago regions, Mon and Kayin states have suffered flash floods, transportation delays and loss of life. With Myanmar being one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries in the world and exposed to multiple hazards, it costs the country over US$184 million annually, according to a World Bank’s report.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited flood-stricken areas in Kayin and Mon states last week and gave words of encouragement, food supplies and monetary support to the people there. She then went to temporary flood relief centres and asked the people there about their livelihoods, health conditions and support being given, followed by a distribution of rice, cooking oil, medical supplies, food supplies, clothing and financial assistance.
President U Win Myint also met with Bago Region administrative, legislative and judicial officials and urged swifter government reforms. Vice President U Henry Van Thio, Chairman of the National Natural Disaster Management Committee attended and addressed the committee’s meeting on 28 July. Ellen Goldstein, World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, said that the threat of climate change is increasing and preliminary measures should be taken to help the country prevent and minimize risks, so that Myanmar is ready when a disaster strikes, and, if needed, efforts to respond and recover quickly, so that families are safe and able to return to their daily lives soon after a disaster strikes.
Dr Kyaw Moe Oo, Director General of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, said that a low pressure area that occurred in north of Bay of Bengal caused rains across the country, especially in coastal areas of Myanmar.
The water level of the Sittoung River rose above its danger level in Taungoo and seven feet above the danger level in Madauk. The water level may continue to rise in those places. In the past few years, official said, the water levels there always reach their respective danger levels. The water level of Sittoung River at Madauk hit a record, reaching its danger level this year and caused flooding in Bago, Shwegyin and Madauk townships.
The country’s economy and society is still largely dependent on agriculture, which relies heavily on rain. Thus, if there is too much or less rain, it would have much impact on agriculture. Too much rain fall will cause floods which will impact on the production of agricultural products.
In 2015, when the worst flood in decades hit central Myanmar, the response to the floods was limited, and flood warnings did not reach the people. Weak response to the disaster led to misunderstandings about evacuation efforts. While people are in the midst of facing floods, local authorities should make sure that warnings issued by the weather bureau reach the at-risk communities well ahead of time.
Floods are common during the rainy season in Myanmar. Hence, the weather bureau has alerted people living near rivers in Hpa-an, Bago, Shwegyin and Madauk to take precautionary measures because the water level of the rivers there has gone above the danger level. The level is expected to rise at least one foot further over the next two days because of heavy rains.
As for the authorities concerned, efforts are being made to mitigate the impact of floods, and cooperation is needed to take a proactive approach to dealing with the risks and also providing aid to flood victims nationwide. We need to inform and educate the people about the risks and educate the flood victims staying currently at the shelters about water-borne infectious diseases, how to prevent them and how to treat them.
Local and health officials are advised to be ready in helping treat the diseases and in training volunteers on how to fumigate potential breeding sites and spread messages to communities about dengue prevention.
To reduce the loss of life due to water-borne infectious diseases, an immediate flood response that includes surveillance for these diseases, particularly dengue, is very important. Fast response to an outbreak is required. The most effective way to prevent the disease is public participation in preventive measures against the disease. People are urged to participate in prevention activities by keeping the homes and environment clean every day and make sure there is no water left for the insects to breed.
Ensuring that weather warnings reach the populations, who remain the most vulnerable to floods, should be given a priority. Another priority should be shifting from “a response-recovery approach” to a “risk-sensitive development approach.” This includes replacing outdated drainage and sewage infrastructure, as well as enforcing land use plans and zoning regulations to keep buildings and households out of danger zones.
Last, but not the least, is that people faced with floods should be urged not to believe in any rumours when floods hit their areas. It is of great importance to keep a close watch on weather updates and warnings during the rainy season.
(Translationed by Win Ko Ko)

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