The death toll from devastating flooding and heavy seasonal rains in Myanmar has now reached at least 46, official sources said Monday, and is likely to climb to “several hundred” in some parts of the country, as aid groups struggle to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the weather.
The flooding has also forced Myanmar to postpone parliamentary meetings, as lawmakers work to bring relief to their constituencies, and pushed back preparation for the country’s national elections, scheduled for Nov. 8.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement said Monday that floods have killed at least 46 people and affected an estimated 200,000 others throughout the country, according to media reports.
In western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which is among the worst-hit regions of the country, flooding has left at least 35 people dead and five missing since heavy seasonal rains began to batter the country at the end of June, state government officials told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Reuters news agency quoted Hla Saw, a senior member of the Arakan National Party, which represents Rakhine state, as saying that the death toll in the region “will reach several hundred,” adding that rescue workers have been unable to reach many of the state’s more remote areas.
Weather has drenched and flooded Myanmar’s western and northernmost regions in recent weeks, causing landslides, bursting dams, wiping out roads and bridges, destroying thousands of houses and farmland, and forcing schools, markets, businesses and community buildings to close.
More rains and strong winds moved across Rakhine state as tropical Cyclone Komen crossed the Bay of Bengal late last week, leaving areas northeast of the state capital, Sittwe, including Mrauk U and Minbya, particularly devastated by flooding.
Impoverished Rakhine state is home to nearly 3.2 million people, including roughly 140,000 Rohingya Muslims displaced by communal violence, who live in government-designated camps near Sittwe.
Residents of the region told RFA that the flooding had destroyed their livelihoods, taking away all of their possessions.
“Everything we owned is gone—destroyed,” said Maung Shwe Lone, of Ponnagyun township’s Byinhla village.
“Even when the waters recede from our farmland, how will we find seeds for replanting?”
Thein Shwe, of Ponnagyun’s Aungseik village, said all of his family’s cattle had been lost in the flooding.
“We need all kinds of assistance for our village, as well as for other neighboring villages in the area.”
Ma Than Htay, of Kin village, said residents were given no warning before high winds and floodwaters inundated the area.
“The water washed away most of the houses and everything was gone—even our clothes were carried away.”
In a statement issued Monday, Shalini Bahuguna, from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said flooding in Myanmar was particularly affecting children and families who are already very vulnerable, including those living in Rakhine state.
“Beyond the immediate impact, the floods will have a longer term impact on the livelihoods of these families,” she warned.
Twelve out of Myanmar's 14 states and regions have been affected by the rains, and last week, President Thein Sein declared natural disaster zones in Rakhine state, Chin state, Magway region and Sagaing region.
Myanmar's former military regime was slammed domestically and internationally in 2008 for doing little in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which killed 130,000 people.
Thein Sein and military chief Min Aung Hlaing visited several affected regions over the weekend, and relief efforts appear to be significantly more coordinated in the wake of this year’s flooding, despite hampered access to some remote areas.
On Monday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited flood-stricken areas of Bago, the capital of central Myanmar’s Bago region, and delivered supplies—including rice, drinking water and medicine—by boat to 1,600 flood victims temporarily housed in the city’s Myohit Sports Stadium.
The Nobel laureate told RFA victims cited pressure from local authorities to return home, and pledged to discuss their situation with city officials.
She also visited monasteries in Bago’s Zainganaing ward, which has been inundated since July 28.
A number of organizations have also chipped in to assist flood victims, with Myanmar’s Rice Traders Association announcing Monday that it had arranged for relief and charity groups to purchase rice at discounted rates, as hoarding during the severe weather has driven up prices in several regions.
“There are now camps for flood victims in the Magway, Sagaing, and Rakhine regions—priority will be given to these camps,” he said.
“We’ll work to verify who really needs it or not, to make sure the rice doesn’t go to people who try to take advantage of this situation … It will come from our reserve stocks, so we can distribute it at a discounted rate.”
The flooding has also affected governance in Myanmar, with the office of the country’s Hluttaw, or parliament, announcing Monday that meetings would be postponed indefinitely, despite a session slated for Aug. 10.
According to the announcement, the meetings have been suspended to accommodate lawmakers who are working to coordinate flood relief efforts, and due to disrupted transportation.
The weather has also caused Myanmar’s Union Elections Commission to extend by six days a deadline for political parties to register election candidates ahead of the country’s Nov. 8 polls.
The commission said Monday that registration will now be extended to Aug. 14, while candidates will be permitted to withdraw until Aug. 17. Applications for registration will be examined for eligibility between Aug. 18 and Aug. 27, it said.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Moe Kalaya Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.