Destroyed homes, damaged fields and lost crops; villagers in Myanmar face an uncertain future

Published: 25 August 2015 10:00 CET

By Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara, IFRC

30 July was supposed to be an important day for Min Htun Maing, 29, a farmer from Kyaukka village, 18 miles from the township of Kale in Myanmar’s Sagaing region. Mi Htun had invited local monks to visit and bless his newly built house close to the Myittha river. He was about to move into the house with his wife and four-year-old daughter, and owning their own home was a dream come true for the young family after living several years together with Min Htun’s father.  

Sadly that dream was ruined by the monsoon floods that have engulfed vast areas of Myanmar in recent weeks. Just two days before the special occasion, Kyaukka experienced its worst flooding in decades, which destroyed the houses of Min Htun, his father and a hundred other villagers. In the Kale area, a valley surrounded by mountains, 6,000 homes were damaged and 1,000 were completely destroyed. Large areas of farmland were left unusable and many farmers lost their crops in the middle of the harvesting season.

“The water level rose by a foot every hour reaching up to 20 feet. It stayed high for nine days and then started to go down very slowly, just about two inches per hour,” Min Htun recalls.

His family evacuated to a nearby hillside, taking along their important documents and most of their valuable belongings. They built a temporary shelter with tarpaulins donated by the Myanmar Red Cross Society. The government has said it will help villagers to relocate their houses further from the river, but this will take time.  

Fortunately Min Htun was able to harvest part of his rice crop before the flooding swept across his fields. In addition to rice he also grows beans, which together make up his family´s livelihood. The loss of part of his rice crop has dented the family’s income making them dependent on donations until the next harvesting season.  

For now,  Min Htun is too preoccupied to dwell on his personal losses. He is helping the Red Cross distribute tents, shelter kits, tarpaulins and water purification tablets in his community. The shelter kits – which include items such as a spade, hoe, rope and saw – are warmly welcomed by families who want to clean their houses, construct a shelter or dig the thick mud from their rice fields once the rains ease.   

Chaw Su, 30, says she will store the tools in her temporary shelter, hoping to use them next year when the harvesting season arrives. She was growing beans and sunflowers on the other side of the river where floodwaters still cover the farmland. As well as losing her crop, Chaw Su also lost a major part of her food stock when her two-storey house was destroyed. She is despondent about the future. “At the moment I do not feel hopeful of being able to re-build a similar house again,” she says.

Red Cross volunteer Ma Nyein Ei Nwe lives in a village near Kyaukka. She first started volunteering in the community two years ago after seeing how a group of Red Cross volunteers were helping to respond to a fire. As an experienced volunteer she has been helping to distribute shelter kits and she spends time walking around Kyaukka  advising people on water purification. She also visits the local school to teach children how to wash their hands and keep up good hygiene to prevent any outbreaks of disease.

Support from the Red Cross is badly needed, and despite the widespread destruction in the village, people are continuing with their daily lives as best they can. 

“Even though I cannot personally support people with many of the material things they need, I want to support them with my energy,” says Ma Nyein.

As one of more than 500 Red Cross volunteers deployed to support flood-affected areas across Myanmar, she is playing a vital role in helping people in her community get back on their feet in the wake of this disaster.