Heavy Rains Destroy Homes And Cropland in Myanmar’s North And West

myanmar-sagaing-division-floods-aug2-2015.jpg An aerial view shows floodwaters inundating houses and vegetation in Kalay, upper Myanmar's Sagaing region, Aug. 2, 2015.

More heavy rains and floods in Myanmar have forced residents from nearly 20 villages in Sagaing division to be relocated, while the government in hard-hit Rakhine state has started providing financial assistance to farmers whose fields are submerged in water.

More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from villages in flood zones in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing division, where about 50,000 acres of land have been submerged after torrential rains fell on the flood-hit area this week, said William France, administrator of the division’s Social Welfare, Relief and Rehabilitation Department.  

“About 600 homes have been destroyed in Sagaing division,” he said. “There are many damaged houses as well. We have to relocate about 2,000 households, which will cost about 2 million kyats (U.S. $1,570) per household.”

Flooding in the Magway division of central Myanmar last month had submerged Pwintbyu and Sidoktaya townships under 20 feet of water and forced more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in camps. But now, most have returned to their homes to clean up the mess, residents said.

But the floods left behind mud which is covering all the fields in Sidoktaya township, said resident Kyaw Aung Lwin, preventing farmers from growing crops.

“[We] will not be able to clean up this mud and plant in these fields for the next two to three years, although authorities have forced farmers to plant as quickly as possible,” he told RFA. “The farmers got angry and annoyed by it because the authorities haven’t thought about their problems.”

Officials must adjust the water level in the Kyi Ohn Kyi Oh Dam to prevent flooding from reoccurring, he said.

“People asked the dam officials to do something with this problem,” Kyaw Aung Lwin said. “They are thinking about protesting if authorities don’t adjust it.”

Kyaw San Han, a resident of Pwintbyu township, said farm animal became ill from being in the water for a long time during the floods.

“Many of them are still sick and can’t work in the field yet,” he said. “People in this area fear there will be floods again because they have been traumatized by the recent floods.”

The government of Rakhine state in western Myanmar has provided financial assistance for farmers in flood-hit areas, where more than 210,000 acres have been destroyed.

The state government has paid farmers 7,000 kyats (U.S. $5.45) per acre of farmland for more than 170,000 acres in total, but can provide seeds only for 40,000 of the total 210,000 acres that have been destroyed.

“The Rakhine state government will work on resettling flood victims who have lost their houses and land,” said Mya Aung, the state’s temporary chief minister. “Authorities have to make accurate lists of the losses.”

Suspension of ban on rice exports

Despite the damage to farmland caused by heavy rains and floods in 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and divisions, government said it would suspend a temporary ban on rice exports by mid-September.

Officials imposed the ban on Aug. 7 as floods washed over much of the country, including the Sagaing and the Irrawaddy delta “rice bowl” regions, causing rice shortages and commodity price hikes.

The floods damaged about one million acres of paddy fields, which comprise about 10 percent-15 percent of Myanmar’s total rice fields.

The market price of a sack of rice in remote areas, such as Chin state in western Myanmar, jumped to about 80,000 kyats (U.S. $62.27) from 20,000 kyats (U.S. $15.57), the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported.

Myanmar has 19 million acres for rice planting, produces 14 million tons of rice, and exports 10 million tons annually, the news service said.

Soe Tun, secretary general of the Myanmar Rice Federation, which proposed the elimination of the ban, played down the loss of this year’s rice crops because of widespread flooding.

“Of course, farmers lost their lands, and their rice fields were destroyed, but it [the flooding] didn’t greatly affect the entire country,” he said. “We have to provide farmers with what they need.”

He estimated that Myanmar would have 10 million to 14 million tons of rice by the end of September and early October, although farmers run the risk of getting a low price for their crops.

“But if we keep suspending exports, farmers will have trouble surviving,” he said. “That’s why we have resumed rice exports.”

The Ministry of Commerce, however, suggested the possibility of extending the ban until November to ensure that Myanmar would produce enough rice to feed its own citizens this year, DVB reported.

Reported by Zin Mar Win, Khet Mar, Min Thein Aung and Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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