Flood warnings must reach at-risk communities

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  • Floods are common during the rainy season in Myanmar, and throughout the Asia/Pacific region.
    Every year around this time, we see photos of people wading through waist-high waters from flood-hit areas nationwide. Then, aid and money is delivered to residents who had to leave their homes and take refuge in monasteries or emergency flood centres.
    Meanwhile, the weather bureau has alerted the people living near rivers in Hpa-an, Bago, Shwekyin 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 feet further over the next two days because of heavy rain.
    In 2015, when the worst flood in decades hit central Myanmar, the response to the floods was limited, and flood warnings did not reach all the people.
    The 2015 floods displaced over 217,000 people nationwide and inundated over 1 million acres of farmland, damaging over 426,000 acres and destroying over 56,000 acres.
    The death toll from the disaster reached nearly 100.
    Weak response to the disaster led to misunderstandings about evacuation efforts.
    While the people are in the midst of facing floods, the local authorities should make sure that the weather warnings issued by the weather bureau reached the at-risk communities well ahead of time.
    Ensuring weather warnings reach the populations who remain the most vulnerable to floods should be 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 This includes replacing outdated drainage and sewage infrastructure, as well as enforcing land use plans and zoning regulations to keep buildings and households out of danger zones.
    Another important thing is that the people facing the floods should be urged not to believe any rumours when floods hit their areas. It is a common misunderstanding among some people that dams release water due to damages at the dams. In the rainy season, all dams nationwide are monitored around the clock by engineers and staff. Overflow water in the dams goes through spillways into the rivers.
    Engineers continually inspect the condition of the dams and they also stockpile emergency materials in order to be able to carry out preparedness and response in a timely manner, if necessary. Machinery and labourers are arranged to be ready to quickly respond to any damage to dams.
    When a dam drains out water from its spillway, an alert is made on radio, television and via social media through smartphone notifications. Keep a close watch on weather updates and warnings during the rainy season.
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