Volunteer powered: Myanmar Red Cross emergency flood response

Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteer U Phyo Thihe, 30, worked non-stop for over three weeks to help his community in and around Taikkyi Township in Yangon region.

World Disasters Report

World Disasters Report

Focus on local actors, the key to effective humanitarian action

Mandy George, IFRC Myanmar

Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteer U Phyo Thihe, 30, worked non-stop for over three weeks to help his community in and around Taikkyi Township in Yangon region; an area that has been badly affected by the recent floods that swept across most of the country at the end of July and affected over 1.4 million people. 

Although the flood waters are receding in many parts of the country, Yangon region, located in the Irrawaddy delta, is still badly affected.  Floodwaters have swelled the countries major river systems flowing south, bringing vast quantities of water through hundreds of town and villages in the delta, including Taikkyi. More heavy rainfall and high tides are predicted to cause further flooding in the coming weeks.

World Disasters Report 2015 concludes that local actors—non-government organizations, community networks, religious groups, businesses, and governments—determine the effectiveness of any operation as much as, if not more than, their supporting international partners. This is undoubtedly true of the flood response operation in Myanmar.

U Phyo Thihe and other Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) volunteers, working alongside the fire department and the army, are using boats to evacuate entire villages as the flood waters rise. Since the floods began, around 500 Red Cross volunteers have helped with the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, moving them to safer areas. The volunteers are also supporting the government and local organisations to set up temporary camps where they distribute relief items including hygiene kits, food, tarpaulins and give first aid and psychosocial support to the displaced and injured.

In Taikkyi, U Phyo Thihe and other MRCS volunteers have already evacuated around 3,000 people from nearby villages to a temporary emergency camp established at a monastery. They have provided around 2,000 people with relief items and first aid, psychosocial support and referrals to the local hospital.

U Phyo Thihe remembers one case in particular. “The other day we set out for the nearby Phayargone village to evacuate people as the water had already reached waist high and was still rising. There was one family that refused to leave. I found out that one of the family members had just had a miscarriage and was not at all well, and it was critical for her to come with us so we could get her to the hospital. We tried all afternoon to persuade her, and finally in the evening as the flood waters began to fill her home, she agreed to come with us. The house is built on six stilts. That is how high the water was.”

Sandar Ayea, 17, and her family were taken by boat to safety and registered by MRCS volunteers in the evacuation camp, where they are still living today. The volunteers immediately referred her to the local hospital and helped to transport her there.

 “The doctor told me that it was a good thing that we brought her here and that she was able to receive treatment soon, or complications from her miscarriage could have meant that she would not have been able to have children in the future. She could have been in great danger,” U Phyo Thihe explains. “We have also seen lots of accidents and people needing first aid, including snake bites, head wounds, elderly asthmatic patients, injured children and pregnant mothers with complications.”

When asked how he feels about helping his community in the floods, U Phyo Thihe said, “It’s hard work because we have to work all day and in to the night but I’m happy and fulfilled because I can save lives and help my community. I have been a volunteer for 16 years so I know what to expect from Red Cross work. This is a big emergency and people need our help even more right now.”

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Volunteer powered: Myanmar Red Cross emergency flood response