Hla May and Ma Sann Win’s story of leaving their homes and moving to higher ground is repeated in villages along the river in Minbya Township. Faced with the worst flooding in memory, whole communities fled in boats, through rough water and with few, if any possessions. Whole communities remained in the mountains for a week, before returning home to assess the damage the flood had caused.
“When we returned home some people cried because we have no rice paddies, no clothes and nothing to run a business. We checked the fields and all of our buffalos and cows were dead,” Hla May explains.
In July 2015, Cyclone Komen caused flooding across Myanmar, where 9 million people were affected and 1.7 million were temporarily displaced. More than 15,000 homes were destroyed and the floods have impacted on people’s access to healthcare, livelihoods, education, food, water and shelter.
El Nino is approaching and the World Meteorological Organization predicts it could be the worst on record. For farming-dependent communities whose food, water and livelihoods were destroyed by the floods, El Nino and the current dry season will place further pressure on already vulnerable families.
Recovering from the Floods
More than 6 months after Cyclone Komen hit, Plan International has been supporting 37 flood-affected communities to recover, by providing food, water, hygiene kits, tarpaulins, school supplies and have constructed temporary learning centers.
“Now people are starting to get fatter. Before we were starving, running and struggling for life. We were very small and very skinny. When we returned to our houses we couldn’t eat anything. We were really struggling. We could find rice but we didn’t have any water to cook it. We tried to cook with salty river water. It was very dirty and muddy but we had no choice,” explains Ma Nu Sein from Chin Seik village.
Families have received rice, pulses, salt and oil in partnership with the World Food Programme.
“Really in our hearts it was the food that came that helped us too survive. We couldn’t get rice so the food was very important and useful for us,” explains Thein Ye from Ta Khun village.
Along with food, water remains a key priority, even more than 6 months after the floods. Ponds – the primary sources of drinking water- were filled with muddy water, making them unsafe to drink.
Getting water is no longer a short walk from people’s homes, but a 2 hour round-trip by boat to the mountains, where people wait in long lines to collect water from a spring. It’s a time consuming, but necessary task.
We are not sure if we will have enough water this year. We think it won’t be enough.
"It’s getting muddy now. When we drink it we get diarrhea but we still drink it. It’s far to walk to the mountains to get water,” Ma Thein Nu explained.
Preparing For the Future
With harvests destroyed and current income limited to collecting and selling firewood, communities in Minbya face a challenging dry season.
Communities have learnt the importance of protecting some of their most valuable assets – rice seeds - so if it floods again they will be able to re-plant straight away.
“We never thought the floods would be so high, so we didn’t prepare for them. Now we have put some food and seeds up higher but if the water comes up high again it won’t be safe. Life is our first priority. If it floods again we will try to bring food but if not we will leave our property behind. Life is more important,” said Ma Nu Sein.