Rebuilding lives in Myanmar, six months after the floods

Published: 1 February 2016 3:48 CET

By Mandy George, IFRC

Never in her  90 years had Daw Tin Oo witnessed anything like it. “The water came so fast,” she said. “Normally it flows one way and is only two or three feet deep, but this time it came from both directions. I’ve never heard such a noise. It kept rising so fast, and we were afraid. So we fled as fast as we could, leaving everything we had behind. The only things we saved were the clothes on our backs.  We lost our home, our possessions and even our village.”

Daw Tin Oo and her family were one of the nine million people affected by the devastating monsoon floods that hit Myanmar last July. The floods affected 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions, displacing over 1.7 million people and destroying over 15,000 homes and 840,000 acres of cropland.

Daw Tin Oo’s entire village of Maw Like Kalay South, in Sagaing region, relocated to empty land over two miles from their village. Her family owned a two-storey house together with agricultural land. Life was comfortable.  As she tells her story, Daw Tin Oo’s animated, smiling face becomes serious.

“Now it is all totally ruined. Our house is under mud and we couldn’t salvage anything except the shack where we used to store hay. Our agricultural land is destroyed and we have no way of making a living. This new place is still very strange for us. For 90 years I lived in my native village. When we arrived here, I just wanted to cry. So we all cried together.”

As part of its floods recovery operation, the Red Cross Movement has so far helped over 60,000 people in Sagaing, Magway, Ayerwady, Chin and Rakhine with cash grants. Daw Tin Oo and her family received 500,000 Myanmar Kyat (approximately 385 USD).

“We decided to spend some of this money purchasing the land we have moved to,” she said. “We are happy to know that we own this land now, this is a big thing. The rest of the money we are keeping as a safety net for medical expenses and other emergencies.”

When the floods came, U Pyar Gyi, 44, and his wife and three children were also forced to flee their home and small business near the river bank of Nat Nan village.

“We didn’t know what to do after this. How could we rebuild our lives when our home and business were destroyed? When we heard the Red Cross would be giving us some money to do this, at first we couldn’t believe it. We were so excited that we couldn’t even eat or sleep. We decided to spend most of the money on restarting our shop and we hope to grow the business again and have a life like we did before.”

The Myanmar Red Cross Society has to date helped over 400,000 people with emergency assistance and help in their longer term recovery. The Red Cross is also working to build the resilience of communities to better withstand future crises.

“Myanmar is one the most disaster prone countries in the Asia Pacific region,” said Professor Tha Hla Shwe, President of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. “An important part of our recovery plan is focused on disaster risk reduction initiatives which directly involve the participation of hazard-prone communities, helping them to become more resilient to future crises. They range from training local volunteers to strengthening early warning systems, pre-positioning relief supplies and carrying out small-scale infrastructure projects that improve flood defences.”