Red Cross volunteers in Myanmar bring hope and aid to evacuees in flood-stricken villages

Published: 18 September 2015 8:33 CET

By Swe Swe Soe Naing, Myanmar Red Cross Society and Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara, IFRC

It is nearly two months since heavy seasonal rains and Cyclone Komen triggered severe floods in Myanmar. The floods have claimed 117 lives and  affected over 1.6 million people in 12 of the country’s 14 states and regions. As the transition from emergency relief to longer term recovery continues, the Myanmar Red Cross Society and its network of volunteers is playing an important role in helping many families to move on with their lives.  

At the peak of the flooding, Ko Win Naing and Ma Ei Phyu Aye, both 19, were forced to evacuate their home in the Aye Tharyar village, Sagaing region when it was submerged. Ma Ei Phyu Aye was pregnant at the time and the couple left with just the clothes on their backs. “We couldn’t take any of our belongings with us, and I feel sorry for my son that he was born in this troubled time,” she said, speaking from a temporary evacuation camp. “I was very worried about where we would live, and if my son would catch a cold and fall ill when it rains.”

Myanmar Red Cross volunteers provided temporary tents, supported by other Red Cross Red Crescent Societies as well as donors, to flood victims like Ma Ei.  “I have seen Red Cross volunteers before, but I never knew what they could do for others. They provided us with not only physical safety, but also emotional support. My family is now safe and well. I can’t find the words to express my gratitude to the Red Cross volunteers,” said Ma Ei.  

Red Cross volunteers have assisted with the evacuation of over 380,000 people from the flood-stricken areas. With support from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), more than 1,400 Red Cross staff and volunteers were able to distribute essential relief items like hygiene kits, family kits, kitchen sets, blankets, shelter tool kits and tarpaulins to 74,000 people in the 12 flood affected regions.

The Kalay region in North-West Myanmar was one of worst hit areas. The floods damaged around 6,000 homes, another 1,000 were washed away. 22-year-old Tun Tun Naign, a volunteer with the Kalay branch of the Myanmar Red Cross put aside his own needs to help others when the emergency first began. The flood left his house filled with water and mud, but that didn’t stop him from evacuating others in his community and providing them with relief supplies. “My wife cleans our house during the day, and when my work at the Red Cross is over, I hurry home to help her,” explained Tun Tun.

In Kayukka, in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, 100 families lost their houses to the severe floods. 21-year-old Ma Nyein Ei Nwen, who lives near Kayukka, works as an assistant midwife in her village, and hopes to become a nurse in the future.  During the floods, she volunteered with the local Red Cross team, distributing relief items and teaching members of her community about the importance of good hygiene practises. She spends much of her time showing villagers how to purify their water and teaches children at a local school about the importance of hand-washing and how to prevent waterborne diseases. “Even if I can’t personally support people with the material things they need, I want to support them with my energy and time,” said Ma Nyein.  “I’ve wanted to be part of the Red Cross ever since I saw other volunteers practicing their first aid skills in my community. Now, I am part of the team and I’m able to help others.”

On 11 August, the IFRC launched an emergency appeal for 4 million Swiss Francs (4.1 million USD) to support flood-stricken communities in Magway, Sagaing and Chin regions. Two months on, the Myanmar Red Cross Society has opened a hub office in Kale, where the National Society will manage integrated recovery programmes in the worst affected villages in Kale and Tamu Townships (in Sagaing Region) and Hakha township (Chin State). The programmes will focus on supporting early recovery needs for shelter and livelihoods through cash transfers, water and sanitation activities, health and disaster risk reduction.