Myanmar villagers face floods with just sand bags for protection

Men wade along a flooded street at Kalay township at Sagaing division on August 2, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

HINTHADA, Myanmar - Myanmar's president called Thursday for the evacuation of low-lying areas as the Irrawaddy river threatened to breach embankments, leaving villagers with just sand-bags to hold back churning waters that have hit much of the country.

Floods from a heavy monsoon season have cut through swathes of South and Southeast Asia in recent weeks, claiming hundreds of lives and displacing millions.

Twelve of Myanmar's 14 regions have been struck, with officials saying 74 people have been killed and more than 330,000 affected - many forced into monasteries and other makeshift shelters after their homes were inundated.

In a picture muddied by damaged communications, relief agencies said floods had receded in some northern and western areas allowing supplies of food and clean water to trickle in, although landslides were still a threat.

The centre and south are now bracing for floods as water drains through the vast Irrawaddy delta.

In a message broadcast on radio early Thursday, President Thein Sein said areas near the Irrawaddy were at risk as the river rises "above danger level".

"As we cannot prevent natural disasters, I urge fellow citizens to move to safer places... it's the best way," he said, adding Hinthada and Nyaung Don townships along the river were in immediate danger.

Worst floods in memory

In Hinthada, the army on Thursday helped residents prepare for floods, securing belongings inside homes and reinforcing embankments with sand bags, with villages on the other side of the barriers already submerged up to their roof-tops.

Boat driver Than Naing said this year's monsoon was the worst in living memory, as he helped ferry people across an expanse of dark water that has swallowed rice fields.

"I have never seen anything like this. Every year it floods a bit but not like this," he told AFP.

"My parents are about 70-years-old and they haven't seen floods like this before." International aid efforts have buttressed the response of the army and local communities, following a rare appeal by the government for outside help.

But thousands of people are still feared stranded in rugged and remote Chin State after days of rain caused flash floods and landslides that swept away homes, roads and bridges.

Further south, aid agencies have warned drinking water is running out in parts of Rakhine State, which was also hit by Cyclone Komen late last week.

The floods have heaped misery on the state, which already has tens of thousands of people in displacement camps - mainly Muslim Rohingya - after waves of sectarian violence.

Concerns over food security are also mounting as UN said more than million acres of farmland have been flooded, devastating the stable rice crop, with more rains forecast.

Myanmar is set for a general election in November and the quasi-civilian government has been at pains to show it is reacting speedily to the floods.

Their approach appears in stark contrast to the former ruling generals, who refused outside help for weeks after the 2008 Cyclone Nargis, which left 140,000 dead or missing.

India and Pakistan have faced the worst of this year's monsoon with hundreds dead and more than two million displaced across the two nations.

More than two dozen people died late Tuesday in central India when a flash flood derailed two passenger trains.

Vietnam and Nepal have also seen scores killed.