16th August; Thursday afternoon… I get a call from my boss to speak with him in his office. The matter at hand was an urgent request from the Government of Myanmar to provide emergency food assistance for 47,000 people that had been displaced by widespread flooding in the delta area (south west of the country and in the area south of the capital Yangon) since the beginning of August. “Can you accompany the teams on their mission to assist in ensuring that the food gets to these people effectively?”
As we (World Food Programme) do not have any partner organisations in the area we are able to provide direct support to the government if they request it. In the current political climate here, it is a good opportunity to work alongside a government renowned worldwide for it’s oppression of freedom of speech. How will they handle the situation and how will they organize themselves with the requested food.
Friday morning, I’m in the car heading south-west of the city through the rain to three of the worst effected areas (around 25,000 people). On the way the weather clears but there are clear signs of floodwaters. We’re told on route that the water had actually receded by 25cm (1/2 ft.) since the previous week but the road is still covered in water in places, up to 20-30cm. There are numerous houses under water along the side of the road as we reach or destination and many have taken to building temporary shelters along the roadside. Livestock also feed at the side of the road away from the flooded fields. Boats glide over what would normally be paddy fields in the middle of the growing period (already 12days underwater, well beyond the period rice plants can survive complete submersion). The outlook is not promising from farmers and labourers alike.
We arrive at the District Administrators office for the formal introduction to what we are there to do. We are greeted formally and with a sense of urgency to provide assistance to the affected households. We make our requests for information and assistance with our logistical needs to make this happen, which are greeted with a multitude of calls and introductions to responsible subordinates.
By day two of our mission and forty eight hours after receiving the request, we have identified three drop off locations for the food rations (rice, chickpeas, oil, and salt; enough for two weeks, about 180 metric tonnes in total), although we are still to finalize the current number of displaced people and a temporary warehouse facility. We have also visited 2 IDP (internally displaced people) camps in two monasteries containing 1000 people, currently being fed with donations from private donors or the monks as well as the local authorities, which are mainly causal laborers and have left their homes with as much as they can carry.
We meet with international NGOs operating locally to understand what other responses are being provided and finish the day having established the magnitude of the need, having almost finalized the numbers, and with clear goals for the following day. Tomorrow will be another busy day as we set off by boat to visit some of the affected areas.