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May 31, 2020

Tracking the Footprint of the Wrath of Nature in Chin State

By Salai Siangawr Vanhnin

Recent natural disaster in Chin State is extraordinary, at least for the Chins, because it is unprecedented in history. Previous disasters were unworthy of mention in comparison with what happened in other parts of Myanmar. It is part of excessive and continuous raining caused by the cyclone Komen which has been wreaking havoc in the whole country making more than 1.5 million people homeless. In other parts of Myanmar flood is the principle cause of disasters. In Chin State, however, landslide is the main culprit. The exception is lowland Paletwa township where flood reigns. Chin State capital Haka has gotten a lot of rainfall, i.e., 31.42 inches, within a week from the 25th to 31st July. This is more than one-third Haka gets in a year. Average yearly rainfall in Haka is about 80 inches while average rainy day is closed to 130 days. Other Chin cities such as Mindat (15.51 in.), Paletwa ( 42.52 in.), and Falam ( 17.82 in.) got a lot of rain, too. At Haka, landslides began on the 26th July but only on small scale. On the 31st, however, a big chunck of the slope of Mount Rung (7,127 ft.) which is called Rungtlang in Chin, slid down to the Resistance Lake which lies at its foot. The Lake itself is but a small pond of only an acre though it has rooted in the hearts of the Chins because it was built by prisoners of 1917 Haka Rebellion. Mud and water have poured down through a creek which originates at the Lake triggering a waterway along the creek down under. Khuabe and Beute villages and Myohaung Ward which lie under its path are greatly damaged making over 7,000 people homeless.
We three aspirant candidates of a political party (U Zo Bawi, Major Van Thio and I) and a friend (U Sang Cem) have heard all this bad news in Yangon with heavy hearts. We have no choice but to go to Haka on foot to register our names at Chin State Election Commission Office before the deadline of submission on 8th August. We knew that Gangaw-Haka road (86 miles) is greatly damaged and travelers are forced to go on foot from milepost 42 onwards till Haka. We made ourselves ready for this journey mentally and physically. Mental preparedness is more important for us to personally experience the footprint of the wrath of nature in our homeland. We are old physically
(I am about to turn 67, U Zo Bawi is 60, Major Van Thio is 56, U Sang Cem is 50 +) but young in spirit and mind.
We left Yangon on 2ndAugust, 2015 by Major Van Thio’s newly bought car. I accidentally made my phone disfunctioned while fetching water from a creek to cool our overheated car near Gangaw. This makes me incommunicado for about three weeks. Very bad in the information age! We left the car at milepost 42 which is a place it could go furthest. Our suitcases and heavier belongings are left with the car. When Gangaw-Kalay road (about 90 miles) is ready to open our driver would come up to Haka through it and Kalay-Haka road (123 miles). At milepost 42 the road disappeared because of landslide. It is about 500 feet wide and 1,500 feet long. We climbed up to about 200 feet and from there we crossed the crest to the other side and then descended to the road. I heavily leaned on a stick while crossing it. A false step means death. There is no way to come up alive if one falls. We stopped for a while at Lungcawi village. The village chief told us that this morning they went to a place where a new village would be built because they felt that their village (about 60 houses) is no longer safe. We came across U Zing to who is an engineer with his workers at a worksite with bulldozers. They have been confined to stay here to make the road passable. At Lamtuk village (41 miles from Haka) we stopped for a rest and dinner.
We spent three days and two nights on the road. The first night is at Ruavan village, 33 miles from Haka, which has suffered some damages. The second night is at a working camp at milepost 16. Landslide at milepost 18 is the largest (about 1,500 feet wide) and the longest (about two miles long). Here, the crest is so large and steep that we dared not cross by ourselves. We have been waiting for local travellers for about three hours. At last, Zokhua village chief and his men came to our help. One of the hardest crests to cross is at milepost 16 where we took rest for the night. Here, we are told, that three workers were swept away by landslide while they were exchanging foodstuffs. We requested the campers to cook for us but they refused because their food stock is very low. However, they happily let us to have their leftover food which was enough to fill our empty stomachs. Crossing the crest at milepost 13 is the hardest. The slope is 90 degree steep and is about 300 feet long. We used rope to descend it with the help of a Burman worker Ko Zaw Min Oo. He carried our belongings to the other side in three shifts. He told us that a worker was swept away by a torrent at this site. Every step I take is a challenge for me. My knees tremble every descent I make. My heart is about to explode every step I ascend. The stick is my life-saver. Without it I could not make it. Every step I make to descend or ascend makes me angry at the Chin State Government. It has failed to make temporary tracks between landslides and villages. Making tracks between villages is a one-day work for villagers concerned who need only an order to do so by the authorities. Damages are extensive. There might be more than 50 places where road disappeared. We can see innumerable patches of landslides on mountain ranges with many sizes. Many paddy fields are swept away by torrent of floods. Damages are small in number when we compared with damages in other parts of Myanmar. For the Chins, however, such magnitude of damages is the first for them. According to innitial reports, list of damages are like this: 49 schools, 128 government buildings, 105 miles of road, 73 bridges, 16 churches, 1,707 acres of fields, 1,893 households with a population of 9,177. The damage is estimated to be about 20 billion kyats. Houses damaged by landslides could be classified as: (1) totally damaged ones, (2) houses being destroyed, (3) houses needed to be dismantled and rebuild at other places. The third type are increasing in number. For example, my own birthplace of Surkhua village, 50 miles south of Haka, has suffered two totally damaged houses, but there are at least 23 houses needed to be dismantled and rebuilt at safer places.
The greatest problem for people of Haka and Thantlang townships (more than 100,000) is the increasingly scarcity of food. Only Kalay-Haka road is operational. Even this is for the Haimual Jeeps. Haimual Jeeps are famous for rough roads. A Haimual Jeep can carry 50 to 70 sacks of rice. They are products of Kalay Industrial Zone. Many well-wishers who camp themselves in Kalay and want to send rice and other foodstuffs to Chin State are competing to hire Haimual Jeeps that send transport charges sky-high of 13,000 kyats per sack of rice which is almost two times a few days ago from 7,000 kyats. The city of Haka suffers most in terms of population affected by the disaster. There were 7,417 persons during the first days who were homeless. Later, their number has been dwindling day by day. This is due to people who prefer to live with relatives. There is a silver lining in the cloud. There is a plot already chosen by victims of Myohaung Ward, Khuabe and Beute villages and it is approved by the Chin State Government. A better-built, a better-run, and a better-lively urban centre would come out in the near future.


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