24 October 2011

Update on the Burma flood and riverbank collapse disaster

Posted by Dave Petley

Summary: a brief review of the flash flood and riverbank collapse disaster in Myanmar, which has killed over 200 people.

It is interesting to see the ways in which similar-sized disasters in different parts of the world are reported.  Whilst the Turkey earthquake is (rightly) gaining substantial amounts of coverage, the flash flood / riverbank collapse disaster in Burma (which I refuse to call Myanmar in case you are wondering) is hardly causing a ripple.  However, the Myanmar Times is reporting that the death toll from the latter currently stands at 215, and may reach 300 people.  There is some variation in the accounts of the events of the day, but it is clear that a very heavy rainstorm was the root cause of the problem.  Reported rainfall at Pakokku was  in excess of 100 mm, inducing floods in both tributary streams and the main channel in the Magwe area of Pakokku.  The largest loss of life appears to have been associated with a major riverbank collapse event at Pakokku township itself.

From an academic perspective, the way in which this event is being reported by the state-run media in Burma is fascinating.  The government-controlled New Light of Myanmar online edition has a detailed report of the event that fails to mention the magnitude of the losses, appears to blame local people for the event (“Wood-cutting should be avoided to prevent from floods and inundation and if it is necessary to cut down a tree, ten trees should be grown again, and slash-and-burn farming should be avoided as much as possible, which will contribute to prevention against flood and inundation.” and “Although alarms on danger of floods that had never occurred in Pakokku District have been given to the local people, some property and lives were lost in floods due to the fact that the local people have lack of experiences and knowledge on preventive measures against dangers of floods.”) and describes in extraordinary detail the government support being provided (“Union Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay donated rice, oil, noodle packages, 1500 sets of school uniforms, 500 dozens of note books, clothes and personal goods worth K 10 million” etc

I bet those flood victims are delighted to have received 6000 notebooks…!