At the end of July, South Asia witnessed some of the worst flooding seen in decades. Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have seen hundreds killed and millions affected. The worst affected area is Myanmar, where even before the flooding, over half the population did not have enough to eat. Myanmar Country Director, Shihab Uddin Ahamad, updates us on what the situation is like on the ground and how he and his staff are helping the people worst affected by this crisis.
Myanmar is currently facing the worst floods in decades - the most devastating natural disaster since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
The situation in Myanmar so far
The situation is severe: more than one and a half million people are affected; their homes, their fields, their livestock, as well as important infrastructure, have been damaged or destroyed, leaving people destitute and without the means to earn a living.
According to the UN situation report on 21 August:
- 1.6 million people affected in July and August
- 384,900 households displaced
- 453,000 houses damaged or destroyed
- 972,000 acres of farmland damaged
- at least 117 people killed since June
It is very difficult to reach flood stricken areas, which has raised fears that diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea may soon start to spread. Our economy is heavily reliant on the agricultural and farming industry and soon after the water recedes, thousands will be left without crops to harvest or arable land for rearing animals.
In addition, as with most emergency situations, women are particularly at risk. The displacement of communities has seen vulnerable women take refuge in temporary shelters which are insecure, opening women up to the threat of sexual harassment and exploitation.
What we're doing
ActionAid are responding to flooding in Myanmar, as well as in Bangladesh and India, since mid-July - working with the local communities to distribute essential items. ActionAid Myanmar has supported approximately 14,314 people to date with food, temporary shelter materials, water purification tablets, women's sanitary kits, mosquito nets and wood for fuel.
Before the flooding, we had also been preparing communities to better cope in climate related disasters. This has really helped: groups of trained young people have been exercising the skills they learnt in search and rescue training, evacuating people and livestock to safer ground, and farmers have been using new agricultural methods to ensure their crops survive.
Our response is underway, split into three main stages:
1. During the floods: Support communities with cash to purchase lifesaving items such as food, water and fodder for livestock – according to their own needs and priorities. If this produce is not available then we will work with our local partners to help buy and distribute these items.
2. After the floods: Give cash grants to communities to rebuild important infrastructure such as roads, water sources, and schools. Cash-for-work initiatives will benefit the entire community and provide vulnerable people with an income opportunity. This can start as soon as the water recedes and should continue for about four weeks.
3. Long-term: Allocate further cash grants for poor farmers to buy seeds and equipment needed for them to restart their livelihoods. This will reduce the risk of people falling into debt traps and also ensure agricultural production for the coming season.
Despite everything, it is amazing to witness the resilience and determination of the Myanmar society in this time of crisis. Everyone is contributing to help the affected people cope - volunteers of all ages, civil society, the private sector, and government agencies, as well as the international community.
ActionAid, partners and Fellows (young volunteers) have worked day and night under strenuous circumstances to provide a community-driven emergency response - and we will continue to do so for long-term recovery. But we need funding to do it.
Sadly, we know that after the flood water recedes, this crisis will deepen. Thousands of people will be left without a home or means to earn a living, and with the next crop harvest still a long way off, people across South Asia will struggle to put food on the table.
We need financial help, now, to respond to people's immediate needs, but also for the long term - to help people reconstruct their lives. Your support would be much appreciated by all of us here in Myanmar.