After weeks of monsoon rains, Myanmar appeals for international assistance

Reuters

Myanmar said Tuesday it has appealed for international assistance to help provide food, temporary shelter and clothing for more than 210,000 people affected by widespread flooding following weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

At least 47 people have died in the floods, according to the government.

Myanmar’s call for international aid stands in sharp contrast to stance taken when it was ruled by a military junta. It refused outside help in the wake of a devastating cyclone in 2008, when 130,000 people were estimated to have perished.

While the quasi civilian government, which took power in 2011 and faces elections in November, is leading relief efforts, the military is handling operations on the ground.

“We are cooperating and inviting international assistance. We have started contacting possible donor organizations and countries,” Minister of Information Ye Htut, who is also spokesman for the president’s office, said.

He said international assistance is also needed to relocate people and rebuild communities after the floodwaters retreat. With a per capita GDP of $1,105, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the East Asia-Pacific region.

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon began providing relief supplies to stricken areas this week.

The minister said that the floodwaters have begun to recede in Rakhine state on the west coast, which suffered some of the worst flooding after being lashed by the tail of Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh late last week.

Areas northeast of Rakhine’s state capital, Sittwe, including Mrauk U and Minbya, were particularly hard hit.

Video footage shot Monday aboard a military helicopter in Rakhine showed hundreds of people rushing through muddy floodwater to collect air- dropped supplies.

Rakhine is home to around 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims who live in squalid camps scattered across the state.

Emergency workers still faced difficulties in Chin state on Tuesday after the rain caused landslides in the mountainous state that borders India and Bangladesh.

Main roads running through the state remained impassible and attempts to access cities by helicopter were hampered by the relentless downpours, Ye Htut said.

The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, citing the Ministry of Education, said that more than 1,300 schools across the country had been shuttered due to the floods.

Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann has also postponed the reconvening of parliament scheduled for Aug. 10, in what will be the final session before the country heads to the polls on Nov. 8.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been inundated by the floods, with the U.N. warning that this could, “disrupt the planting season and impact long-term food security.”

The Global New Light reported that the Myanmar Rice Federation will halt exports until mid-September in an effort to stabilize domestic rice prices and keep supplies of the staple food item available.