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Cleanup Underway from Flooding in Thailand, Burma

  • Ron Corben

Tens of thousands of people are still waiting to return home from camps in eastern Burma after days of heavy rains triggered massive flooding that forced many to seek temporary shelter. Aid groups are calling for urgent aid for populations hardest hit in remote regions amid concerns over disease outbreaks including malaria.

Thousands of people along Burma's eastern border states have been forced to remain in makeshift shelters after days of heavy rains triggered widespread flooding, which observers say was the most severe in two decades.

The flooding has badly affected Burma's Southern Kayin, also known as Karen, and Mon states, leading to the evacuation of over 33,000 people into 79 relief camps set up by local authorities.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says officials from Karen state are seeking assistance with access to isolated regions, made difficult due to roads being cut or damaged and the collapse of bridges. UNOCHA says key items in need are food, sanitation and medical supplies. UNOCHA officials say many of those affected have lost homes and crops.

Major flooding also occurred in neighboring Thailand. The Salween River broke its banks near the Thai town of Mae Sot, a key access route into Burma for goods and transport. Officials overseeing a dam near the town had also been forced to release water, adding to the flood damage.

Mae Sot has also played a key role in providing assistance to Burmese refugees and those displaced by Burma's internal conflicts over recent decades.

A key clinic providing medical aid to the refugees was itself temporarily flooded. But Yasmin Ahammad, a spokesperson at the Mae Tao clinic, said while waters in Mae Sot had receded, floodwaters remain high in the border regions of Burma's Karen State.

Ahammad said some 10,000 people are still living in 24 temporary camps in Karen. But the clinic's mobile health services have so far only reached four of the camps, located in Buddhist monasteries and schools.

Ahammad says many staying in the camps face a desperate situation once they return to their homes, some now washed away. She says it may be sometime before they will be able to return home.

"At least 20 of the families have completely lost their homes and all their belongings. They have nothing to go back to and the rest, they're still in the camps because if they go home they've got severe damage to their homes where they don't have any clean water, they don't have anything to cook with, they have lost all their clothes. So that's why they are staying in the camps," said Ahmmad.

Thai officials in Mae Sot say the flooding was the most severe in 20 years with damages put at close to $65 million. Nearby garment factories were forced to close, leading to around 4,000 factory workers being evacuated.

Overland and river transport remain badly affected. Roads between the commercial capital of Rangoon to the Mon state capital, Moulmein, and the Dawei Port in Tennaserim Division have also been cut due to flooding.

Burma's Meteorology Department says while the rains have abated, they are forecast to resume in the coming days, especially in southern Burma where they warn water levels are again expected to rise.

The flooding is reported to have killed at least 10 people. In 2008, Burma's southern Irrawaddy Delta region was struck by a cyclone, leading to massive destruction and claiming the lives of over 130,000 people.

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