April 12, 2021
Opinions and Commentary

Govt’s complacency and incompetency compounds suffering of Chin disaster victims

Govt’s complacency and incompetency compounds suffering of Chin disaster victims

One year on, Chin victims are still reeling from aftermath of disaster and govt incompetency.

23 May 2016 – One year after the heavy landslides that had devastated parts of Hakha, Chin State, those displaced are still struggling for their livelihoods. They said that the government had only done precious little to rehabilitate them despite procurement of land and construction of so-called ‘permanent shelter’ on the new relocation site. And with a new monsoon season setting in with yet another round of possible disaster on the horizon, things are looking gloomier by the day for residents of Myanmar’s poorest State.

On 5 April this year, heavy rains and strong winds destroyed more than 40 of the newly built wooden houses. Actually, the victims had earlier staged a peaceful protest in the capital, stressing the fact that the construction lacked relevant disaster-resistant features and specifications initially developed and designed by experts. Bad weather continues to lash the area, leaving some houses completely destroyed and others partially damaged. It shows the fragility of the houses built by government-contracted private companies, and complacency and incompetency of the government’s response to what is the worst ever natural disaster in recorded history.  

Again, on 25 April, another downpour badly affected many families in the new relocation area in the outskirts of the capital.

Pi Dar Neng, a resident in the new site, said, “Our house was leaking a lot through the roof and all our belongings were just about to get wet. It was very cold as well. So, we had to cover all our stuff with a sheet of plastic to prevent them from being soaked.”

“The situation is much worse than we had anticipated. The raining season has not even started yet. But we have already been affected by heavy rains and strong winds here. Surely, we are not protected and we don’t feel safe. Moreover, the other problem is we cannot grow any seasonal crops, and vegetables due to the cramped space of the new housing site.

Nu Sang, another resident, said, “There is still a risk that the new area will face mudslide that can damage homes and business. As long as it keeps raining, the situation will continue to worsen,” she said. The bad weather ruined her hand-weaving business. As all her stuff got soaked, she could not do anything.

Most of the houses are built of timber using a post footing without reinforced concrete and are just clinging to precipitous hillsides. According to a local architect, the fact that the houses are just being placed on a flattened spot on the hilltop is not in conformity with the actual requirements of design and preparation for construction on hilly regions like Chin State. The architect said that the foundations of the houses would not be strong enough to withstand bad weather with strong winds and heavy rains, and that the site was left without a proper infrastructure including drainage system and retaining walls.

“We are really afraid of the rainy season now. We wonder how we will survive as the area is prone to severe extreme weather and gusty winds. Moreover, the way they constructed our houses looks very temporary. You can see how long they will stand and we do not think we can live here for a long time,” said Pu Lal Neng, who is originally from Beute, a village completely abandoned following the landslides.

There are some worrying issues faced by the IDPs (internally displaced persons): no proper drainage system; the possibility of a creek, flowing across their new place that can turn into a raging flashflood; the fact that their new houses are built on weak hillside soil; and some lower surfaces where water can accumulate. These are just some of the issues that can complicate things and render the houses vulnerable to damage and destruction from heavy rains and winds.

When asked if they have informed the authorities or community-based organizations of their critical situation, they admit that they do not know the channel to communicate with the concerned government departments.

The previous government had promised to make drinking water available in the new relocation before people from the two abandoned villages of Khuabe and Beute moved. However, they haven’t got water until today. The residents have to fetch water from a stream quite far from Hakha or buy it from private vendors if they do not get water supply from the Hakha Rescue Committee and Pu Ngun San Aung, former State minister for Transport.

“When we buy water, we cannot wash our clothes and take a bath regularly. Even for those who have motorbikes, it is difficult and it is even more difficult for those like us who do not have motorbikes,” said Pi Dar Neng.

Pu Lal Neng also said, “We have been facing water issues for months and I think it will continue for a long time. Before we moved here, we were told that we would get water in February. Well, it was true then that we got water in February but only for the time when official visitors from Nay Pyi Taw came to Hakha and us.  Since they left, we haven’t got water.”

In the meantime, the new State government still maintains a plan to move all the IDPs remaining at their camps in the capital to the relocation site by 15 May. But it is unclear whether this move will actually be enforced.

In response to the plan, Pastor Lai Cung from Khuahlun, a Hakha ward abandoned after the landslides, said: “They [State government] can do anything if they really want to. But what they say mostly ends with no action.”

“We all want to move to a new place as our camps are not very good to live in, especially now after the rain. What actually happens in our camps when it rains for just a few hours is that it is full of mud. We are in a very difficult situation. I am sure we all want to move to the relocation place if there is water, electricity and other basic needs for us,” he added.   

When asked about the new relocation place, a group of old women said, “We are farmers and totally depend on our livelihood from farms, cultivation but now in the new relocation place, we cannot do those things. There is no even a small land where we can grow some seasonal crops and vegetables near our house. It is very difficult to earn [an income] from the city. We do not have the skills to earn something from the city. We are really afraid for the long run as to how we will make our living after they (government and community) stop providing us aid.”

In 2015, the natural disaster and flash floods dramatically altered the landscape and ground condition of the state. The landslides caused by heavy monsoon rains tore through the city in July 2015, destroying hundreds of houses and leaving thousands homeless in the capital of Chin State.

Meanwhile, victims of the natural disaster can only hope for meaningful help that may never arrive as complacency and incompetency continues to be the hallmark of a meaningful and empathetic government’s response well into the administration of the new civilian government.

Salai Sang Hnin Lian is a Chin journalist and human rights activist. He is currently completing an M.A in Human Rights Studies at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. – Editor ([email protected])

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