Heavy rains poured down in Mawlamyine without interruption starting from the evening of 16 June until the morning of 17 June, causing water flowing into the wards to rapidlt rise to five-and-a-half feet or six feet. Residents had to be moved to higher ground and given shelter.
The following are interviews with relevant authorities about relief, aid and recovery.
Dr. Win Myat Aye
Heavy rain fell all over Mon State, not only in Mawlamyine. It happened in the five townships of Mawlamayine, Mudon, Thanbyuzayat, Ye and Paung. As water suddenly flowed into the wards, up to 42 relief camps had to be opened. The camps are holding 8,263 persons from the five townships. When I learnt of the overnight rains first thing in the morning, I went there immediately.
Normally, flooding and inundation doesn’t happen much in Mon State. Of course it does happen, but it was never up to this level before. As climate change is affecting Myanmar and the world, there heavy rains, floods and inundation have occured, but this is happening in many places so it can be said that there isn’t a place in the world where there can’t be any natural disasters. That is why we are concerned and worried about this.
Are we prepared and ready? We were worried. That is why we contacted (Mon State) before dawn. Hluttaw representatives also contacted us. As the Hluttaw was in session, Hluttaw representatives were also in Nay Pyi Taw and they contacted us. We decided to go there immediately. The downpour had slackened, but the water rose up to five or six feet and people were in camps, so we went straight to the camps. As the rain slackened, the water level started to drop, but the time coincided with high tide, so the tide pushed back the water, making the water level remain high. If the rain was not a continuous downpour, it wouldn’t be this bad, but the heavy and long downpour caused the water level to rise to five or six feet.
From past incidents, we learnt that when there is flooding and inundation, people need to be evacuated from their homes to safe places and this requires boats. So we deployed boats to Bilin and Kyaikto area, where most of the flooding and inundation occured. But when there was flooding and inundation in Mawlamyine, we knew that we wouldn’t have enough boats. As soon as I knew of the heavy rains, I arranged to send three boats from Yangon. Because of this, the boats were in Mawlamyine just after we were there. That was timely.
Another thing is feeding the people in the camp. We can’t gave them money or even rice and food as they wouldn’t be able to buy or cook the food. But civil society organisations were strong in Mawlamyine. There were many donors in the wards too. Donors and civil society organisations (CSOs) teamed up and prepared food for the people. As the water subsided, some in the camps returned to their homes. When we were in camps on the morning of 17 June, some had already left for their homes. When we went back to the camps again on 18 June, more had left. Donors and CSOs were cooking food for the remaining people as well as providing cash assistance.
For those who returned to their homes, we provided one week’s ration of rice. This is at the assistance rate set by our ministry. The rate was Ks2,100 per person, and we multiplied this by the number of affected people, coming up with over Ks15.5 million. We handed over this amount immediately to the state government.
Our social welfare, relief and resettlement personnel also helped, but their number is only a few. We need a lot. But we appreciate the fact that CSOs pitched in and helped. Lessons are learnt on having stronger connections with them. In the past we coordinated and worked with them, but the connection and contact was not strong.
We need to strengthen this. By the evening of 18 June, most of the camps were closed. Only about two remain. Why were most camps closed? It is because the water receded. But the water wouldn’t have receded if the rain continued. If the rain continued, the area would have remained flooded and inundated. Why is this? This is happening all over the country. First, the rain wasn’t this heavy. But more than that, the drains were blocked. In some places, due to cost cutting in construction, some home don’t have drains.
I explained this when I met with the Chief Minister and the public. Let us do things properly and systematically. Drains should remain as drains and do their functions. Trash shouldn’t be thrown indiscriminately, blocking the drains. All need to participate in this and do it properly. This is one part.
Another part is about the pagoda. The platform is most important here. The platform was extended in 2013-2014. Landslides occured where the platform was extended. Why was there landslide? Because when we look down the platform, we saw a lot of trash underneath. The trash includes plastics that loosened the earth’s compactness. The ground became weak and unstable. When there is heavy rain, the ground sinks and slides away. Another thing is construction of religious structures. When the structures were constructed, the strength of the ground was weakened (with the structure’s weight bearing down more heavily while the land is weakened with trash). We learnt a lot from what had happened in Mawlamyine. The government, the people and CSOs need to work together so that this sort of thing does not happen again.
U Soe Aung, Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement
The water rose rapidly. But once the rain stopped, we conducted clearing up works, which resulted in the water subsiding quickly. Once the water subsided, people returned to their homes and start restoring it to a normal situation. Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement himself went and provided assistance on behalf of the ministry. Experts and technicians from Ministry of Construction assessed the situation and were providing necessary supports and expertise for the landslide at Kyaikthanlan Pagoda. They were there speedily as per the instructions and guidelines of National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC) Chairman Vice President U Henry Van Thio. Ks100 million had been donated to Mon State Chief Minister as initial donation to conduct repair works. This was also according to the instructions and guidelines of the NDMC Chairman.
U Myint Zaw, Deputy Director General, Department of Buildings, Ministry of Construction
The Minister for Construction instructed us to inspect the landslide at Kyaikthanlan Pagoda and our team from Nay Pyi Taw reached Mawlamyine at noon on 18 June and assessed the damages. There were many cracks on the pagoda platform. The pagoda trustee immediately poured cement into the cracks and the platform was covered with plastic sheets so that water could no longer seep underneath. It will take time to make a complete repair. A retaining wall will have to be constructed. Drains need to be constructed so that water flow is good. Not only the Ministry of Construction, but NGOs like Myanmar Engineering Council, Myanmar Engineering Society, Myanmar earthquake committee and geologists will be invited to do the works properly.
The state government had also formed a state level committee for this and the Union Minister had also informed the President Office about this. At the Union-level committee, Deputy Minister for Construction U Kyaw Lin is the chairman and I’m the secretary.
Interview by Shin Min, Hmay Kyu Zin
Photo: Kyaw Ye Swe