In Myanmar, Flood Warnings Come After the Floods

Houses submerged by floodwaters in Hpa-An, Myanmar, on Saturday. Heavy flooding in eight states has killed at least 10 people and prompted the evacuation of more than 50,000, officials said.

MANDALAY, Myanmar — U Kyaw Swa, an environmental activist, received an urgent government warning on Saturday to evacuate his home immediately because of the danger of heavy flooding in eastern Myanmar.

But it was too late.

The water had arrived nearly 24 hours earlier and flooded his home so quickly that he and his family had to be plucked by boat from a second-floor window.

“The flow of water was so fast, our house was flooded in 30 minutes,” he said. “We have nothing, and now we have to start our life from the beginning.”

This year’s monsoon season has brought crippling floods to many parts of Southeast Asia. In some cases, poor dam construction, deforestation and a lack of emergency preparations have worsened the effects.

In Myanmar, heavy flooding in eight states has killed at least 10 people since Friday and prompted the evacuation of more than 50,000, officials said.

In neighboring Laos, a dam failure during heavy monsoon rains last week caused widespread flooding that killed an undetermined number of people and left more than 130 missing. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes without their belongings or animals.

Much of the water from the broken dam has flowed south into Cambodia, flooding homes and farmland there and forcing the evacuation of thousands more.

In northern Thailand last month, early monsoon rains flooded Tham Luang Cave and trapped 12 boys and their soccer coach in a dark cavern. Thailand’s military junta organized a remarkable 18-day search and rescue operation that captivated the world.

But the all-out effort to save the boys has been rare among the region’s governments. Some flood victims in neighboring countries question why their own governments do not operate in the same spirit.

“In the Thai cave rescue, 13 people were treated as human beings by the military government,” said Mr. Kyaw Swa, who works for the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network in the now-flooded city of Hpa-An. “But in the Myanmar flood, many people are suffering and we are not informed by the government, as usual.”

In Myanmar, the heaviest flooding has hit the states of Mon and Kayin, especially along the Thanlwin River, which flows from the Tibetan Plateau through the city of Mawlamyine and into the Andaman Sea. There has also been heavy flooding to the north along the smaller Belin River.

The water has engulfed farms, washed out roads and flooded homes. Rescuers go by boat to pull residents from their rooftops. Boats zip down roadways and refuel at gas stations meant for motor vehicles.

Monks, maintaining their tradition of collecting alms every morning, wade through chest-deep water with their begging bowls.

Monsoons have long caused floods in Myanmar. Three years ago, flooding killed about 100 people around the country and forced more than 330,000 to flee their homes.

Environmentalists say that excessive logging and consequent deforestation have made the effects of the flooding much more severe in recent years.

“This time, flooding in our state is the worst,” said Saw Tha Phoe, a coordinator in the state of Mon for the environmental group Karen River Watch. “It is because of deforestation and we cannot deny it.”

Myanmar’s minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, Win Myat Aye, said the floods this year had not reached the level of a national emergency.

But he acknowledged that the government had been slow in preparing for the rains and rescuing people from flooding.

He said the government had been sluggish in its response partly because it anticipated flooding along the Belin River but not the Thanlwin, formerly known as the Salween.

He added that his agency did not have enough people to handle a disaster and was relying on local governments to provide assistance.

Three of those who died were soldiers attempting to rescue people, he said.

The minister blamed heavy monsoon rains and climate change for the recent flooding.

“I just want to alert the people that climate is changing all over the world and we all have to be careful about it,” he said.

Mr. Kyaw Swa said the government issued its warning by posting it on Facebook the day after the flood had arrived.

“The announcement said residents living near rivers and in low-lying areas should immediately leave their homes, as the water had exceeded the danger level,” he said. “But our house was already flooded.”

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