Preparing for Myanmar’s monsoon season

Published: 4 June 2013 16:42 CET

By Becky Webb in Myanmar

The recent news of Cyclone Mahasen marked the beginning of the 2013 Monsoon season in Myanmar. The storm threatened to sweep across Rakhine State, bringing strong winds, heavy rains and potentially life threatening storms to the many vulnerable communities dotted along this stretch of coastline.

“Cyclone Mahasen was the first real test of this year's storm season” said U Maung Maung Khin, Head of Disaster Management Division at Myanmar Red Cross Society.

“We’ve been working with local communities and the authorities for many months to ensure people have access to information on disasters and that our network of Red Cross volunteers are on hand and ready to respond,” he said.

Thin Shwe Oo, 42 lives in the small coastal village of Shauk Chone, home to less than 500 people. She, her husband and four children, all live in a house provided by Myanmar Red Cross Society, after Cyclone Giri devastated this small community in 2010.

“As soon as I heard that Cyclone Mahasen had moved to red alert I used the loudspeakers to spread the message. I went around the village, at least five times a day,” said Thin Shwe Oo.

The community radios and loudspeakers provided by Myanmar Red Cross are vital tools in helping vulnerable communities like Shauk Chone to prepare for emergencies. They ensure national disaster information is shared quickly with families living in local villages, giving them the time needed to prepare and evacuate.

“The radios we have are very useful and we listen to them all the time. If we don’t have radios – we don’t know what is happening. We also heard the Red Cross updates on the radio, giving us useful information on how to prepare.”

The Myanmar Red Cross Society broadcasts were part of a targeted campaign to Rakhine communities which lay in the expected path of Cyclone Mahasen. Playing twice a day on Pyinsawaddy FM and Mandalay FM, the radio spots provided tips and advice such as always remember to stockpile food, clothes and medicines and listen to the radio for updates.

New Red Cross disaster preparedness posters have also been created with teams testing the posters with local residents to see if they are easy for people to understand. The posters use cartoons to share simple advice and messages and are aiming to reach those who have difficulty reading and also children within the communities.

While preparation work was underway in remote villages and towns, concerns were also rising for the thousands of displaced people still living in camps in Rakhine. Up to 100,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by inter-communal violence, with many continuing to live without adequate shelter in camps in and around Sittwe.

Sai Aung Liwan was one of 32 Red Cross volunteers who  helped 30 families evacuate  the camp they had been living in and move to a safer space at a nearby school. “We mainly focused on helping the children and the elderly or people who could not walk by themselves. We also helped carry peoples bags.”

The Myanmar Red Cross Society, supported by ICRC, has been working with families displaced by the violence for over 10 months; providing safe drinking water, emergency relief items and medical assistance. 

“We are here to help” said Sai Aung Liwan. “We must help. We are humanitarians, we help anyone who is in need.”