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Flooding in Burma (August 1997)
September 28, 1997

In August 1997, heavy rain caused floods in four of Burma's States and
Divisions (Irrawaddy, Pegu, Mon and Karen) killing at least one thousand
of local peoples' lives and destroying one fifth of the whole country's
12 million acres of rice fields, according to the confirmed estimates.
The most affected people were along the Salween, Sittaung and Belin
rivers. Many villag4es between the Sittaung River and the Belin River
were swept into the Bay of Martaban at mid night in the middle of

Sittaung river
Burma has only two paper mills and both are located along the Sittaung
valley, Yeni Paper Mill, at the upper part of the river and Sittaung
Paper Mill at the lower part. The Mills demand to cut down thousands of
tons of trees per year and it causes land erosion in the Sittaung
Valley. Moreover, the SLORC built many small and medium size dams (all
together 76 dams through out the country, most of which were built
without concern for the environment) by the local peoples' work force
for the SLORC army owned rice fields and electricity for the army

In Pegu Division, Kyauk Kyi, Nyuaung Lay Bin, Shwe Kyin and Waw
townships were under water for 10 to 20 days in August. Waw township
alone lost over 900 villagers who were staying around the mouth of the
Bay of Martaban. The water level reached higher than the Sittaung Bridge
for about 5 days and Pu Gyine dam's embankment was broken. The villagers
who survived had canoes and were able to cross to the other side of
Sittaung river, Thein Zayat, where the elevation is higher than other
places in that area. The local people lost most of their livestock.
Sources said the 80 percent of rice fields in Waw Township were damaged.
The most affected villages were Pagan, Oat Po, Pauk Tann, Sin Ywar, Gwa
Gyi, Jee Kalay, Myit Kye and Lay Ein Suu which were the residence of
about 1200 families and each village lost at least 100 people.

The junction of the Sittaung River and Shwe Kyin stream was the most
critical place in Shwe Kyin township. The water level reached 7 feet
above the danger level in Shwe Kyin in August. In Kyauk Kyi and Nyaung
Lay Bin townships, the flood started in the third week of July (the full
moon day of the Burmese month Wakhaung) when about 50 percent of rice
fields were destroyed. Small bridges were broken. Ten days later, the
water level had fallen a little. But at the end of the first week of
August, the flood worsened again for 15 days. Most of the rice fields in
those areas were covered with water as high as 3 feet for 10 days.
Farmers said that they could not grow rice again for this year and
expressed there was no hope for saving these rice fields and worrying
about future.

On August 24, the minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement
Maj.-Gen. Soe Myint inspected Waw Township and said some regions in the
country suffered flash floods and Waw was one of the worst. Maj.-Gen.
Soe Myint is the one who forced local villagers to build dams even at
nighttime for rice fields of IB, 60 and LIB 351 in Kyauk Kyi, as he was
commander of the Southern Command. Dams built of poor materials, using
unskilled labor and built under insufficient light would certainly be
unsafe and unreliable. But the SLORC policy seems to just concentrate on
quantity and not be concerned with the strength of dams and the
ecological impact.
Belin River

Belin River, which flows into the Bay of Martaban, crosses Karen State
and Mon State. One of the tragic events occurred in Kyeik Hto Township,
near the famous Kyeik Htee Yo pagoda. In the middle of August, Hnat Pyaw
Taw village, which lies beneath Yathea mountain was destroyed by a land
slide and also flooding from the Belin river and Thea Pyu stream at
mid-night. There were about 100 families living there and only around 60
people survived.
One day before Hnat Pyaw Taw village was destroyed, the SLORC soldiers
tried to demolish the ordination hall of Kyeik Htee Yo pagoda to build a
hotel. Monks and holy men begged not to demolish it but the soldiers
continued. Therefore, people were saying the flooding was caused because
of the bad behavior of the SlORC in relation to the religious building.
So the authorities arrested many people and ordered that nobody tell of
the incident and flooding in Kyeik Hto Township.

Salween River
Myaing Gyi Ngu, the headquarters of the DKBA, which is located due north
of a big island in the Salween River was badly flooded and because it is
quite far from towns, people in Myaing Gyi Ngu had to face starvation
and the lack of medicine. Therefore, many DKBA members and their
families left their headquarters and defected to the KNU (Karen National
Union) Pa-an district authorities.
Rice fields from the southern part of Pa-an town were badly destroyed.
Htone Ein and Zar Tha Pyin villages lost many houses and livestock.

The Irrawaddy division, the rice bowl of Burma, was also significantly
flooded. In Myaung Mya, Bogalay and Hinzada, 70 percent rice fields were
destroyed. Even though these floods occurred through out the country,
the SLORC paid very little attention to the issue. Newspapers were busy
with articles of ASEAN matters for the whole month of August. Flood
alerts and weather reports were lost among the SLORC's propaganda. Even
news of 29 Thais were died in the flooding appeared in the SLORC's media
in August, the Burmese people have not been informed of details of
flooding in Burma.

Hsaw Wah Deh
Human Rights and Trade Union Rights Section