Minister discusses preparations for natural disasters


Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

In the following interview with Mizzima, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye discusses the new government’s plans to prepare for natural disasters.

Our ministry has two departments. They are the Social Welfare Department and Relief and Resettlement Department. Yes, we have 100-day plan in our ministry. So there will be plans for the Social Welfare Department and plans for Relief and Resettlement Department.

As for the Relief and Resettlement Department, it is concerned with natural disasters. Regarding natural disaster, we work primarily in prevention and rapid action. And then we will work for relief and resettlement of the disaster victims. Our priority is prevention of natural disasters. In prevention work, the important thing is to gather information using an effective mechanism. In relief and resettlement too, we work hard to be systematic, responsive and efficient. In information gathering, we need to get information from the people and on the other hand we need to disseminate the information to the people. In this way our response to the natural disaster will be in unison. So we make some arrangements for that. Our Naypyitaw headquarters has 24x7 hotline numbers, 067 – 404 666,067 – 404 777. The people may contact these hotline numbers at any time when the disaster hits their areas. And then we may inform and contact those who can respond to this natural disaster and those who can help these people. In this way, we will be responsive to the people directly. And then the nature of the natural disasters is unpredictable. So we have contingency and emergency plans for the disasters. We get ready the relief supplies in advance. We get ready these relief supplies at the States and Regions Disaster Relief Centre. We store these supplies at the Centre. We are ready to distribute the relief supplies when a disaster hits suddenly.

And then we have partner organizations in our work. Our ministry’s staff strength is low. If we work alone there will be weaknesses in logistics and administration. So we work together with the Red Cross and the Fire Brigade. We work together in prevention work with the Police Force too. We have plans and schemes in this work. At our Naypyitaw HQ, we have an Emergency Operation Centre for prevention work in information gathering from people and rapid response to the disaster-hit people. This centre is connected with international organizations.

We have plans to receive weather news and updates and how to respond to disasters. The information updates are regularly fed to the Emergency Operation Centre. At this centre, we conduct training. We fill relief supplies. We do advanced work. This is our prevention work. In this way we can respond to natural disasters when they come and really hit our country. We know how to be preventative when it comes to natural disasters.

And then we must have an efficient committee for rapid action in dealing with natural disasters. We have the State-level Natural Disaster Prevention Committee led by the Vice-President. There are working committees under this union-level committee. Each working committee is led by the Union Minister. In this way we can respond and react immediately and effectively when the devastating natural disaster hits our country. This is our committee work in terms of prevention.

And another thing we have to do is conducting public awareness among the people on natural disasters for our prevention work. So we launched awareness campaigns among the people. This is our regular and routine work. We always do rehearsals for disasters; flood, storm, earthquakes, etc. We always tell people how to respond to natural disasters. For instance, if there is a flood, we tell them how to evacuate people and animals to higher ground. We tell them what we had to do when an earthquake hits. We did these rehearsals on a nationwide scale especially in the disaster-prone areas. This is the work we are doing for natural disasters in our ministry’s 100-day plan.

As I said to you before, for maintaining regular and direct contact with people, we are doing mobile apps development. These apps will be launched in July. There will be two mobile apps. The first one will be an application and another one will be a Disaster Risk Notification. These apps will be launched next month. Most of the people have mobile phones. There are two advantages in using these mobile apps. We will upload all real time disaster information in these apps. There will be weather news and forecasts in these apps. There will be special weather news in these apps. We will do prevention work effectively in disaster-prone areas.

And another one is interaction with people. The people may report the preliminary damage in their areas to our centre. They can say how many houses were damaged in their village, etc. This is our prevention work.

And in regarding to training, we have a Disaster Management Training School in Hinthada. We are providing disaster prevention training and disaster management training at this school to CSOs and volunteers. In the past disasters, social organizations helped disaster victims voluntarily in their charity work. They visited these places themselves as part of their own plans and arrangements. If we have good relationship with these volunteers and CSOs our work will be more effective in providing relief supplies to the victims. We can help these CSOs and volunteers by arranging their trips to these disaster-hit areas. And then these relief supplies can reach to the needy people.

This is one of our prevention work programmes. For instance, there was a natural lake created by a landslide during a flood in Chin State. If this dam-like natural lake collapses, nearby Kalay Myo will be flooded. We are cooperating with local people for the prevention work for this natural dam. We made field survey to this lake. We took experts and academics with us to study this natural lake. We did prevention work to lessen the anxiety and worry of the people. About 80% of this work has been completed now. We built dams under this natural lake to capture silt and erosion when the lake collapses in prevention of a flood. And we built a spillway too. Though we have a budget to do this work, we need to cooperate with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation. These are the preventive measures in case of collapse of this natural dam or natural lake created by a landslide. Even if the flood water is at an uncontrollable level and the natural dam finally collapses, we have a contingency plan for it. We have told people how to evacuate and how to alert the people. This is well-planned work. The people can contact us immediately in an emergency situation. We installed communication equipment there. This communication system will work even when all other communication systems fail. We will install single side band (SSB) communication equipment in Kalay Myo for contacting our Centre at HQ.

And we will contact with our ministry. We have warned people of the danger of this disaster. We have fixed places for evacuation in case the natural dam collapses. We fixed high ground for evacuation of the people. We bought boats and sent them there. These are our preventive measures for natural disasters. This is just about our work concerning with natural disasters.

Edited for length

Emergency numbers supplied by the ministry - 24x7 hotline numbers 067 – 404 666 and 067 – 404 777.

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