Myanmar Floods (Pt 2) – 7days, 25000 people, 180MT of food (a tale of an emergency response)

By day 3 (Monday morning the numbers have risen to 57,000 for the district that we’re in… our estimate has risen too.  We finalize this with our office and they dispatch around 180MT (metric tonnes) to us by road.  The local authorities finally agree on a drop off point for the main town, which happens to be one of the first places and an indoor basketball court.  We request that the boat big enough to carry 100MT by the next day so that it can be loaded directly ready to head north.  Once that’s finalized we head for the cars and out of town towards a small town, also affected by the flooding, to catch a boat to make our visits to the villages.

We climbed aboard a small boat with a large outboard motor like all in this region, long metal rod supporting a wild spinning propeller and massive diesel engine loudly clattering away powering us along at about 6knots… navigating in the flood area is clearly difficult with the bottom only a few feet below… hidden obstacles and long grass to snare the propeller always a looming fate for the boat… amazingly we only hit bottom once, sending us lurching forward but with no more drama than a sudden braking for a crazy chicken crossing the road if we were in a car…

The next few hours are spent cruising through the flooded delta, peering in on people’s homes along the river (or what is now the river) and stopping at various places to say hi and see what’s happening along the way.

Day 4 and 5 are about making sure that the newly arrived goods are delivered and accounted for.  A surprisingly small number of people in two or three teams take it in turn to off-load the many thousands of bags which make up the 180MT of food that are delivered.  At the basketball court I we watch 70MT of food offloaded in a matter of a couple of hours.  It’s impressive.  The clamour people observing the proceedings is greater than the number actually doing the manual labour, something that always amuses me.

By this day I’m starting to feel quite ill with a fever and can’t help but nod off every time I sit down for a minute.  Right at one of my most sleepy moments a sudden stirring of excitement comes for the officials gathered and I jolt awake and to my feet to be greeted by the Minister of Forestry and Mines (who I only identify after the fact by asking around!).  He’s very happy to see us there, glad hands a few other officials, gets a number of photos taken and disappears as quickly as he arrives.

Next day we travel to the next town and wait for the boat to arrive.  The local officials there decide that there really isn’t enough space to store the food in the town and we make plans to distribute the food directly to smaller boats.  It works surprisingly well and with only a little hassle in making the final tally we conclude distribution/offloading the next morning.  The loaders are amazing… only a dozen carry 50kg bags on their shoulders, sometimes two at a time, up 12 steps out of the hold and 200m to the warehouse… all for only a few cents a bag.

Later the next day we visited the camps along the flooded river.  It was amazing to see how wonderfully happy, calm, and welcoming people are.  Livelihoods ruined or put on hold, possessions lost, homes spoiled by flood water but still able to welcome and politely wait for us to arrive and see the distributions.  Part of me was sickened that they should keep people waiting but in a way we were there to ensure that it was being done correctly and fairly, so a necessary “evil”.  I was deeply impressed by how well organised people were.  How they really tried to ensure that what was received was correct and fair, even when there were more mouths to feed than had been declared… the humanity of it was impressive


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