Omar Valdimarsson in Bangkok
Two states in Myanmar are experiencing their worst floods in living memory. More than 4,000 square kilometres of arable land have been flooded along the country's three major rivers – the Irrawaddy, the Chindwin and the Thanlwin – which have burst their banks and left more than 10,000 families in the two provinces of Sagaing Division and Kayin State in dire need of relief assistance.
In Sagaing Division some 2,000 families who lost their homes to the floods in late August took refuge in 20 temporary shelters, most of which were schools on higher ground. Another 7,000 homes in 10 villages are in a particularly vulnerable situation, according to Seo Seoung Chul of the International Federation in Myanmar.
"Their homes were washed away or are still under water. The majority of these families are day labourers. They will have great difficulty finding work in the next 2-3 weeks, as the region's main industries – forestry and agriculture – were hard hit, and rehabilitation work is not expected to start soon," he says. In addition, prices of food and other goods at local markets have increased two or three times in comparison to other parts of the country.
In Kayin State, five temporary shelters have been opened by the authorities for 1,700 people. But they have now been closed down and people are returning to their homes as the water level of the Thanlwin River is slowly receding.
The Myanmar Red Cross responded promptly to the floods by dispatching teams to organize emergency relief distribution and to conduct damage and needs assessment in the worst hit areas. Relief goods were distributed in Yangon Division, Kayin State and Mon State and further goods procured with funds made available by the International Federation's disaster preparedness programme. Provincial authorities have provided the affected population with small food rations, but its unlikely these will continue for long.
In Cambodia, a combination of floods and drought are a major cause of concern as the country's most vulnerable populations could face food shortages next year. Late rains have brought some relief to eight drought stricken provinces, but extensive flooding in another five provinces has affected more than one million people.
This is the third consecutive year of floods in Cambodia where people have lost homes and crops. The cumulative effect of that and the drought this year has had a disastrous effect on food production and availability.
"Some people are going hungry or migrating further into the forest in the search of food, which could increase the risk of malaria. Given that only an estimated 50 per cent of the total wet season rice crop has been planted and indications that some of this could be destroyed by the floods, there is real possibility of a serious food deficit in late 2002," says Antony Spalton, the Federation's head of delegation in Cambodia.
The floods and the drought crisis has led the Cambodian government to declare a national disaster.
In Thailand, this year's flood season is continuing to wreak havoc in the country's northern and central provinces, which are now experiencing their worst flood in decades. Thirty-one of the country's 76 provinces have been affected by floods and approximately 200,000 acres of farmland have been damaged. The economic cost of the disaster is estimated at more than US$ 4 million. So far, the flooding is less severe than last year, when about one million people were affected and crops worth US$ 25 million were lost.
Thai Red Cross staff and volunteers have actively taken part in the relief operations, distributing food, potable water, household items, medicines and other relief goods, according to Wantanee Kongsomboon of the Thai Red Cross's disaster management department.
In Vietnam, floodwaters upstream from the Mekong Delta are continuing to recede, although a number of monitoring stations are still above the crisis mark. New rain could push the Mekong levels still higher and more peaks are expected in the coming weeks as it is still relatively early in the flooding season.
"People's capacity to cope with the annual flooding in the Mekong Delta has been greatly enhanced by various flood mitigation measures and extensive disaster preparedness activities by the Vietnam Red Cross and others," says Simon Eccleshall, the International Federation in Vietnam.
The worst of the flooding seems to be over in Lao, at least for the time being. The Lao Red Cross, supported by the International Federation, is participating in a comprehensive needs and damage assessment to establish immediate relief needs. However, it is is distributing family kits and drinking water to about 600 families in Vientiane Municipality who were severely affected by the floods around the capital in late August. Flooding appears to have been the most serious in the northern parts of the country, but no major damage or casualties have been reported.
Information Bulletin 2: South Asia monsoon flooding and landslides
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