Climate change increases the odds of exacerbating floods in many parts of Myanmar. During the last week of July, people from Shan, Rakhine, Kayen, and the Mon States have suffered flooding due to continuous days of heavy rain. [source].
In the mid of last August, we were able to arrange a series of interview sessions with three local young university students Zarchi, Eaindra & Khine from some of those flood vulnerable states to hear their thoughts and perspectives on the current flooding issue through their voices. Zarchi and Eaindra are from Thanbyuzayat & Mawlamyine townships of Mon State respectively where 2019 flood and catastrophic landslide cases had been experienced. Khine is from Thandwe Township of Rakhine State.
These days, flooding is a common event for both urban and rural areas in every monsoon, especially in humid and low-lying regions. They all mentioned that every year around the end of July and August is the peak period of heavy rain and flooding. Zarchi said that in Thanbyuzayat, there are lots of streams but no river and flooding usually occurs at most twice a year, mostly in expanded areas of the township known as farmlands formerly where the streams pass like Kyaungpine sector, her living sector, etc., due to spilling over streams' bank. This year flood level was around knee level in her areas, which could be more than that depending on the location. It took around an hour to disappear or as soon as the rain stopped. "We can say this year's flood was normal and didn't give us so much trouble because we raised the level of retaining wall about 1 foot above between the house and stream flowing in the back of our house. However, this drives some people living in huts near the stream banks into relief shelters on the higher ground like school with the help of funeral services, local youth committee, firefighters, etc."
Eaindra said that Mawlamyine has one main river, the Salween River, and other small streams. Not all areas of the township have suffered the flood due to the rise and fall topography. Almost 60% of the township have flooded this year. Starting from July 25, it rained a lot. Some of the areas have already flooded since then and, they have time to prepare by seeing that. She explained that…
"Rain continues, and water level gradually increases up to 2 feet high above the raised level of our house at the nighttime. Since there were lots of stuff on the first floor for our shop, we had to move them to a higher place or make the base materials stronger not to collapse by water even during the midnight. The water level would be high enough to come into our house if we didn't raise our house level about 3ft right after the 2019 major catastrophic flood in Mon State, but it did come into the house next to us. Our first floor had almost flooded. Around the afternoon of July 26, the rain stopped and, it all completely disappeared the next morning. So, it was a 48-hour flood event. Normally that kind of flood occurs at least once a year around this period and took only one or two days."
Again, Khine from Thandwe township shared there are lots of waterways (streams) using for transportation. She said that "we could say the morning of 27th July was the peak period. Water comes into the house and rises over an adult height. For us, the first floor has completely flooded, but we still can live on the second floor. However, for those of single-story buildings, they have to go to a safe place by boat with the help of a local social relief team. The water level went down the next day, 28th July.
Severity Compared to last years' events
Zarchi from Thanbyuzayat mentioned that the 2018 flood majored if it has to compare. Flood level even arises to the waist of an adult (3-4 feet). Water comes into the house, mainly from the backyard stream. "It was maybe we didn't raise the retaining wall between us and stream". Even her mother, who is in her early 50s. said it was once in a lifetime event.
Eaindra from Mawlamyine explained that they had suffered flood issues for four years from 2018 to now. "2018 flood was more severe when compared with property damage for us even this year water level is higher. Because we haven't raised our house level at that time." Flood levels rose to 4-5 feet above the ground, and water came into the house. Since it occurred at night, they didn't have time to prepare. All the stuff from the first-floor storage collapsed due to weakening the base stuff by water. According to her mother, they lost up to hundreds of lakhs of their business by this 2018 major flood. "For 2019, 2020 cases, even though flooding occurs, the water stays only half an hour, and then it all went down as soon as the rain stops. We would say it's just normal for us, but for our neighbor, they have to come to our house to stay for a night in the 2019 flood case."
The flood experience is quite different for Khine from Thandwe. According to her saying, the most significant flood events occurred once in 2004, 2006, and 2021. 2004 flood event caused lots of property damage and not easily accessible to take action if compared to this year.
Causes of Flooding
"In Mawlamyine, we need the proper drainage system."Eaindra
In Thanbyuzayat, drains and streams are regularly cleaned every year during summertime, right before the monsoon. So, flooding was mainly because of the heavy rain, low capacity of streams and low-lying topography. Drains are good enough. Another factor contributing to this spilling water from a stream is the spring water from the upstream side. There are some mountains called Ingyin, Kathit etc., "In my opinion, the case can be worse when the flowing of more spring water from those upstream sides meets with the period of high tide.
In Mawlamyine, continuous heavy rain, land-use change, and drainage problems are also major contributing factors to this flooding. "Previously this place used to be farmland areas, and we moved here last 17 years ago, because of a railway project at the place we used to live. Since our place was within the buffer zone area around the railway, we had to move here. So, I think a land-use change like transforming farmlands into residential places which were already low-lying areas is one of the roots of the problems. "For drainage issues, the drains near our house are pretty good, clean, and flowing steadily. But at the downstream side of the road, culverts are being blocked. According to her mother, those were functional before rising the road level. Even the high-level road becomes like a wall between the opposite house alongside it. And that also makes water trapped at the junction to the blocked culverts. She said that "We need the proper drainage discharging system."
Furthermore, Khine from Thandwe shared that flooding is not quite related to coastal floods, and drains are also okay in Thandwe. "I think it's mainly because of the overflowing water from streams." What she heard from older people is that "it started because of the Tha Htay Chaung Hydropower Dam project around several years ago. Trees were cut down because of the project. Thus, frequent small landslide cases from mountain areas end in streams, lowering streams depth and reducing their capacity happened as a result. "It has been four years that flooding doesn't occur. In previous years, streams were cleaned and taking out sediment to some depth before every monsoon. But this year, maybe because of the current crisis, that action couldn't happen, and then flooding occurred."
Responding and Taking Action to Impact from the community
They all mentioned that older people have to concern about flooding in every monsoon, mostly at night during a series of rainy days, although they prepared to some extent. "We tried to be ready to act when it comes to worst or moved things ahead."
For Eaindra from Mawlamyine and Zarchi from Thanbyuzayat, since the water didn't come into their house, they didn't lose anything, and Eaindra from Mawlamyine added that they cost for hiring labors to move stuff to a higher place. However, for some vulnerable communities from low-lying areas, it will distract their daily life, income, and a certain level of property damage. The good thing is helping them move to the relief shelters by the youth charity teams and others. There is an activity of sharing food (rice & curry) by other safe households to them.
Khine from Thandwe mentioned that rising water level above the adult height, losses will depend on the value of what you have. For those who have lots of stuff and who are running shops, they will lose much. "For us, we cost for hiring labors to clean and wash all the silt away after water disappears and also for later maintenance case."
"We all haven't heard any flood-related health issues, maybe due to the rise of covid cases."
"There should be a concrete action for those huts alongside the stream bank. Leaving their houses every flooding time is not the right thing"Zarchi
Personal Opinion and Feeling
"People were more transparent and more communicated, they know how to connect each other, help each other, and more aware of the news through the social media or phone callsKhine
Zarchi from Thanbyuzayat said that "there should be a concrete action for those huts alongside the stream bank. Leaving their houses every flooding time is not the right thing, I think. It can also be ok if they raise their house level by themselves or maybe by some humanitarian aid."
Eaindra from Mawlamyine added that it would be better to have a proper drainage system.
Last but not least, Khine from Thandwe brought a new aspect to us. What she said was that "this year flood is maybe more severe, but the good thing I see is starting from recent years, people were more transparent and more communicated, they know how to connect each other, help each other, and more aware of the news through the social media or phone calls. That makes it easier for them to take action than before."
Flood Inundation Map of Mon & Kayin State as of July 2021 developed by MIMU
Flood Inundation Map of Rakhine State as of July 2021 developed by MIMU
We are also hoping that this article would enable visibility and make the youths more aware of their neighborhood and feel like they belong and we also would like to thank all the interviewees for allowing us to hear their voices.