Months after the torrential monsoon rains that have caused massive floods in several areas of Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, the situation in the remote Chin state has not got back to normal yet, with local organisations claiming that people in the rural, mountainous area are still in need of relief.
The Chin state is Myanmar’s most impoverished region, inhabited predominantly by the Chin Christian minority and divided in several ethnic groups. The mountainous morphology of the territory and armed conflicts with the central government have hindered the economic development of the area, causing many young people to emigrate. Only recently the state had been opened to foreigners without any special permits. The government had announced that it was hoping to boost eco-tourism in the area – before the landslides occurred. The Chin state is mainly formed by chains of mountains, the “Chin Hills”, the highest of which (Mt. Victoria) reaches 3,000 metres. Untouched nature in the north, as well as tribe villages and a national park in the south, should have attracted foreign visitors. Lack of infrastructures and the remoteness of the area, however, represented a great obstacle to the development of a tourist flow, even before the flooding.
The natural disaster has exacerbated already existing problems. Veronica Ni Siang Par, co-founder of the local Falam Youth Organisation in northern Chin state, remembers that “we had non-stop rains from the 24 July to the 2 August, that caused several landslides, destroying houses, roads and bridges. In Falam, we didn’t need to leave, but 20 villages in the surroundings were so damaged that they should have been evacuated. It was difficult to do so, however, due to their conditions”.
The mountainous terrain in the Chin state creates a suggestive natural scenery, but it also poses serious transportation problems to its inhabitants. While the road system that connects the major cities, before the flood, was mostly accessible and undergoing improvements, many villages were barely connected to the rest of the country. The flooding and subsequent landslides have destroyed most of the local transportation system, causing troubles to rescuers and aid workers. “The highway is not completely repaired yet, so that heavy trucks cannot reach Falam and the neighbouring areas. Food is one of the mayor problems for those who have lost their farms and crops, as well as transportation.”, says Ms. Ni Siang Par. Zirtan Hnuni, leading member of Hualngo Land Development Organization (HLDO), ActionAid Myanmar’s partner organization in Northern Chin State, confirms that most roads have been only partially reconstructed and some bridges risk to collapse again in case of heavy rain.
Food and alternative income sources are the most compelling needs of the population at present. “Around 95% of people living in Chin are economically reliant on agriculture, and with almost all of the crop lands destroyed in the flooding, many people are desperately seeking alternative means to earn money whilst they replant their land”, says Mr. Hnuni, “the main problem now is to ensure that people are able to survive whilst they wait for their crops to regrow”. “On the long term, more disaster resilient farming techniques are needed. One lesson learnt is that most plantations are located at vulnerable places, so that new technology is needed to help the farmers adapt to the dramatically changing climate”, he adds.
Deforestation, in the past few years, has also become a debated problem, in the Chin state as well as in the whole country. Data from a recent report published by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation show that circa 10.000.000 ha of forest in Myanmar have been lost since 1990. Although there is no evidence of a link with the actual flood, experts are concerned that deforestation might contribute to create favourable conditions for landslides, particularly in the mountainous areas of the country.
International aid had started to flow to the affected regions shortly after the disaster. Reuters reported earlier in August that “at least a dozen countries have donated cash, with China dispatching a convoy of trucks with relief supplies, India and Australia flying in military aircraft to deliver supplies and the European Union and United States pledging funds for the relief effort”. Analysts stress that the government’s response has been quick, particularly if compared to the last disaster caused by cyclone Nargis in 2008, but there were also criticisms for it being too slow in the most remote areas. “We didn’t receive much help from the government here in Falam. We did receive some help from local organisations and the Chin Relief Committee Falam, but we are still in need. More is needed”, states Ms. Ni Siang Par.
The flood, due to the heavy monsoon rains and the subsequent cyclone Komen, caused the displacement of 1.7 million people in the whole country, as well as the destruction of 39.000 homes and of over 445.155 hectares of farm and rice-paddy land, according to data of the International Red Cross.
The U. N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that, at present, 11.000 people are still in evacuation centres in the Chin and Sagaing region, awaiting to return their homes. “The Government has said it expects many of these people to be relocated before the end of the year. However, others may be in temporary accommodation for longer, particularly those who are awaiting relocation to new sites; their villages having been totally destroyed and no longer considered safe. (…) According to the Government, almost 3,000 households in Chin State may eventually need to be relocated to other locations due to the risk of further landslides“, it says in a report dated 27th November.
Better shelters and camp support items are still needed. In Chin, some of the displaced are still living in communal halls, some with no privacy and limited facilities such as latrines or bathing spaces. Better quality shelters is particularly important in high-altitude areas of Chin State where temperatures drop to freezing point between late October and January. (…) Items such as stoves, solar lights, plastic sheets, repair kits for tents and fuel are needed“, according to the OCHA.
This Article first appeared in the December 17, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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