Disease and farming threat from Myanmar flooding


Stagnant and slow-receding waters pose a substantial disease threat to the people of Myanmar affected by heavy rains that have fallen across South Asia over the past week, the Irish Red Cross has warned.

Head of International Department John Roche said that with one million affected in Myanmar and many more in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, water-borne disease like dengue fever and malaria are an immediate danger to health. He also highlighted the damage to farmland which will deny hundreds of thousands of people their livelihood.

In Myanmar alone, one million acres of agricultural land has been affected. "The relief effort is now firmly focussed on provision of medical care and the prevention of water-borne diseases.

The Irish Red Cross in partnership with our colleagues from Canada, France and Myanmar implemented a Disaster Risk Reduction programme up until June of last year. The programme targeted four coastal divisions now affected by heavy flooding.

"Red Cross volunteers executed evacuation plans, provided First Aid training and distributed emergency kits that had been stockpiled for this eventuality. But many areas remain inundated and people affected by this recent disaster still need emergency water and sanitation interventions," Mr Roche said.

"Many communities rely upon ponds and shallow wells as their primary drinking water supply. Now, many of these are contaminated, so a key priority is to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases through distribution of aqua tabs and clean water; rehabilitation of water sources and emergency sanitation arrangements.

"Over the next month people will need basic relief items but the Red Cross is balancing this approach with a 12-month strategy to help those whose homes and lands have been destroyed and their water sources contaminated. We will be rebuilding homes and community infrastructure such as wells, water sources and latrines,” added Mr Roche.

The floods have come at the time of crop planting and rice paddy transplanting. Crop damage, seed stock damage, land which is heavily silted, loss of tools, livestock, and disruption of access to markets have disastrous economic effects. Current food production and income generation is affected, but the potential loss of the entire crop cycle in these areas will have serious future impacts – not just for farmers, but also for the landless poor who rely on casual agricultural labour to meet their families’ needs. Rising food prices will affect all of Myanmar, but could be acute in some locations.

Since mid-July, heavy monsoon rains have caused floods and triggered landslides in several parts of Myanmar. The situation worsened on 30 July when Cyclone Komen made landfall in Bangladesh after sitting off the coast of Western Myanmar for several days, bringing with it high winds and further heavy rain.