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BANGLADESH-MYANMAR: Rush to deliver aid to thousands after landslides

YANGON, 17 June 2010 (IRIN) - Governments and aid workers are scrambling to assist thousands of people - many of them stateless Rohingya refugees - stranded after three days of heavy monsoon rains caused severe flooding and landslides in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border region, killing at least 99 people and wiping out homes, roads and bridges, officials say.

In Myanmar, 46 people were killed in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships of northern Rakhine State in the west, the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Most of the population in these two hardest hit townships are ethnic Rohingya, a stateless people denied citizenship by the Myanmar government.

"Several thousand families have reportedly been displaced and close to 40 villages are submerged," Vincent Hubin, deputy head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar said by email. He said agencies were assessing the situation in the field, and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs U Phone Swe has arrived in Northern Rakhine State and will stay for several days.

A visitor on a field trip in Northern Rakhine State was among thousands of people trudging through deep mud from Maungdaw to Buthidaung - the two worst affected cities - to safety.

"The road between these two places is completely destroyed," she wrote in an email to her husband in Bangkok, who spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity. "The road we walked today took five-and-a-half hours. That was the only way to take ourselves from the place we were in to the next town.

"We walked in deep mud for hours, climbed and balanced on 20cm-wide bridges over small ravines... We're completely covered in mud from head to toe and completely soaked. Now we have arrived at our destination, and from here, there are boats to Sittwe [capital of Rakhine State]."

Cut off


Bridges between Maungdaw and Buthidaung were washed away, locals told IRIN.

"Some people in the town worry so much about their relatives and friends in the rural areas, but they can't access their villages as transportation is now cut off," a local resident from Maungdaw said by phone.

Another woman from Maungdaw said entire families were killed after a rain-soaked hill collapsed on to Taungshwe Village in Maungdaw Township.

"The victims have no food to eat, no house to live in," she said, adding that commodity prices in Maungdaw had spiked.

Bishow Parajuli, the UN Development Programme resident representative, said the most urgent needs in the affected areas were drinking water, shelter, food and blankets. "We are providing rapid response to meet immediate needs, but people also need to rebuild roads and houses and recover from these unfortunate events."

Rains have reportedly subsided and water levels are receding but the area is at further risk as the monsoon season has just started, according to OCHA.

Local authorities, the UN Refugee Agency, Médecins Sans Frontières - Holland and Action Against Hunger have supported the relocation of affected people using boats. Many other organizations such as Malteser International, Myanmar Red Cross Society and others are also supporting relief efforts, Hubin said.

''We walked in deep mud for hours, climbed and balanced on 20cm-wide bridges over small ravines... We're completely covered in mud from head to toe and completely soaked''
UNHCR, the lead agency in northern Rakhine State, has called an emergency meeting of partners in Yangon and is supporting coordination in the field in water, health, shelter, food, infrastructure and protection for families who have lost documents.

"With regards to the convoy [of essential items], UNHCR is leading the process and is trying to organize a boat to depart from Yangon and go to NRS (Northern Rakhine State). Departure is still planned for Saturday," Hubin said.

The OCHA report said emergency supplies would be mobilized from Sittwe. As roads have been damaged, the use of boats and commercial flights will be considered for the deployment of the emergency supplies.

Bangladesh toll

In Bangladesh, at least 53 people, including five members of the army, were killed in landslides in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban districts. Cox's Bazar experienced 132mm of rain in 24 hours, according to a 16 June situation report by the government's Disaster Management Information Centre.

The Ministry of Food and Disaster Management has allocated 1.3 million Bangladeshi taka (about US$19,000) and 150MT of rice for affected people in the two districts.

Meanwhile, people in areas vulnerable to landslides have been evacuated, fishing boats have been advised to remain close to the coast and measures are being taken to save food stores at risk of inundation, the report said.

Gias Uddin Ahmed, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, told IRIN that 15 shelter camps had been established.

There are 12,000 people in the rescue camps. We are also providing foods to them. UNHCR gave us 700 tents and we have handed them over to the affected people," he said, adding that some people had started returning to their homes.

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Theme (s): Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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