Monday, 20 January 2020

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Landslides, floods kill 46 in Arakan State

Dhaka (Mizzima) – Landslides and flooding after heavy downpours in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships in Arakan State have killed 46 people and injured four in the western region near the border with Bangladesh that features many rivers, flood plains and mountains, Myanmar TV reported yesterday. 

The broadcast came as the UN reported it was assembling aid convoys in Rangoon and Sittwe townships and discussing other aid measures with Burmese officials. 

The news report telecast by the state-run television station said: “Landslides in Maungdaw killed 28 and 18 in Buthidaung Township. And also four were injured in these landslides”. 

The BBC reported landslides in nearby Bangladesh had also killed 53 people on Tuesday. 

Torrential rain started on Monday and had averaged 340 millimetres a day, the national Meteorology and Hydrology Department said in its weather report. 

Of the seven wards in Buthidaung Township, only a few houses in Ward No. 5 were spared the results of the deluge. All remaining houses in that ward and the other six wards were flooded and more than 200 victims were taking shelter in State High School No. 1, a teacher from Buthidaung said. 

Flooding from rain that had started on Sunday in Maungdaw had receded at about 9 p.m. last night but rain continued overnight and stopped today in Bhutidaung, where flood waters had yet to recede, local residents said. 

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in a report yesterday said that access to the area was difficult and that the UN had asked the Burmese government to provide logistical support for assessment of damage and risks to people in the area. 

Adding to the areas’ isolation and the inherent difficulty in providing relief, it said several bridges had collapsed between Rangoon and the western port of Sittwe, and added that access between Buthidaung and Maungdaw and between Maungdaw and Alel Than Kyaw was cut.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Burma met the deputy minister for Home Affairs yesterday in Rangoon, along with a delegation of UN staff and NGOs to offer assistance, the UN report said. 

“He [the UN co-ordinator] requested that access is facilitated for rapid assessments and that the local authorities facilitate logistics, including the use of helicopters if necessary,” it said.

The deputy minister welcomed the offer and was to lead a fact-finding mission today in Buthidaung. A liaison officer had been appointed for the Maungdaw area, the UN report said.

UNHCR, the lead relief agency in northern Arakan, called an emergency meeting of partners in Rangoon and said organisations in the field were assessing needs there. Four teams on the ground included staff from the UN refugee body, the World Food Programme, the UNDP, aid group Malteser, French aid group Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Médicins Sans Frontières Holland (MSF), the UN aid office said.

It reported that about 1,200 people had been made homeless in Maungdaw, but gave no figures for Buthidaung. 

“Local authorities, the UNHCR, MSF Holland and ACF have supported the relocation of affected people using boats,” it said. 

The teams listed basic needs that needed support, including clean water, and said the ACF had started distributing drinking water to the homeless in Maungdaw. Health concerns were raised including the possible outbreak of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and cholera, but said most health centres and clinics were open. 

Other needs such as shelter and food were being addressed and the UN said the Maungdaw Township Peace and Development Council, UNHCR and its partners were providing food to people affected. 

A convoy of essential items was being prepared to leave tomorrow from Rangoon and “emergency supplies will also be mobilised from the nearby township of Sittwe”, the UN report said. “As roads have been damaged, the use of boats and commercial flights is [being] explored for the deployment of the first emergency supplies.”

In other areas of the state, Reuters news agency reported that flooding had also hit Myauk Oo and Kyauktaw townships, 550 kilometres from Rangoon, washing away three bridges, although no casualties had been reported there, it said, quoting an official in the region. 

Because of the flooding, riverboat transport between Sittwe and Buthidaung has been suspended.  

Other landslides had happened because of rain early in the week. District bulldozers early on Monday evening cleared another massive landslide that had for 17 hours blocked the country’s only road to Bangladesh and an important trade link, linking the two flood-hit towns, the Buthidaung-Maungdaw Road. 

Torrential rain led to the collapse about halfway along the road on the approach to the Tawgaunggyi tunnel, blocking the 16-mile (26 kilometre) highway from about 11 p.m. on Sunday until 4 p.m. on Monday. The 660-feet (200-metre) tunnel passes under a section of the Mayu mountains and was built by the British.



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