MYANMAR: Eyewitness recounts hours-long trudge through landslide sludge
Roads and bridges were destroyed by the landslides
BANGKOK, 22 June 2010 (IRIN) - A week ago, Liselott Agerlid, a political counsellor for the Swedish government in Bangkok, set off on a routine trip to Myanmar's Northern Rakhine State to visit projects co-financed by Sweden.
But when three days of monsoon rains caused the worst flooding and landslides in memory in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, home to thousands of stateless ethnic Rohingyas, Agerlid found herself stranded and with no choice but to hike back along the crumbling remnants of the area’s main roads and footpaths.
“We had been told there would be no point in waiting for better weather as landslides had completely destroyed the road and any repairs would take months,” Agerlid told IRIN after returning to Bangkok. “We set off on foot. The road - or what was left of it - was covered in mud, sometimes [knee-deep].”
The floods and landslides led to at least 63 deaths and affected thousands of families, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper
“The road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung that we'd travelled with such ease two days earlier could on Wednesday [16 June] only be passed on foot,” she said.
left the route between Maungdaw and Buthidaung covered in rocks, soil and trees, forcing Agerlid and her colleagues to haul themselves up and down ravines, through mud and creeks, for five-and-a-half hours.
"The people we met and passed were extremely kind and helpful. I don't think I've ever taken so many strangers' hands in one day. Helping hands were reaching out everywhere, as locals constantly assisted us and each other in getting out of the deeper mud areas and climbing up slippery paths.
Photo: Liselott Agerlid
|"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out"
"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out. Nowhere on our walk did we witness people in distress or despair, adding to my growing perception of an extremely strong and resilient people.”
But while there were smiles along the way, on her journey she was struck by the devastation caused to the region.
“Many houses were completely crushed by earth and mud, others flooded with mud and water. Whole families had died, some people [were] severely injured. Thousands were forced to leave their homes. Water ponds were full of mud and some of the rice was [ruined].
“I tried to hold back tears and rage at the unfairness of it all as we spoke to villagers about how to rebuild their homes [and restore] access to food and water.”
Aid workers in the region have been mobilizing to get aid to those most affected. A boat carrying humanitarian assistance left from Yangon on 20 June, while another is slated to depart on 24 June, said Vincent Hubin, deputy head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA
“The government is well in the driving seat, which is a good thing. They’ve shared a first list of needs, and they are refining it,” Hubin said by telephone from Yangon.
Government officials have said they are repairing the road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung, as well as providing logistical support for humanitarian agencies, he said.