Floods, COVID-19 and Fighting for Survival

August 7th, 2021  •  Author: Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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“The floods are also making it extremely difficult to assist those with COVID-19, flood waters threatening hospitals and COVID-19 centres, with patients having to be evacuated. Yet, through these hardships local communities, grassroots civil society and volunteers are banding together as best they can to alleviate the disaster.”

Over six months since the coup d’état attempt on February 1, 2021, and it is difficult to fully comprehend and take stock of all events that transpired after the dawn raid on State Counsellor  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. In the last six months the peoples of Myanmar have borne witness to the military junta’s slaughter of peaceful protesters in the streets, extreme torture of prisoners, waging war in ethnic areas, the weaponizing of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a massive humanitarian crisis.

Most recently, floods as a result of heavier than normal rainfall, have affected many regions of Myanmar, including Rakhine, Mon, Karen, and Karenni States, destroying bridges, washing away homes and ruining crops essential at a time when food, water and livelihood opportunities are scarce. Food insecurity is growing, the banking sector is in crisis, and the economy is collapsing. The World Bank is forecasting Myanmar’s economy to shrink by 18%, and the World Food Program estimating that an additional 3.4 million people will now go hungry. The floods are also making it extremely difficult to assist those with COVID-19, flood waters threatening hospitals and COVID-19 centres, with patients having to be evacuated. Yet, through these hardships local communities, grassroots civil society and volunteers are banding together as best they can to alleviate the disaster. One example is in Mawlamyine, Mon State where food has been distributed to flood victims and rescue missions have saved those who were stranded by floodwaters. In Myawaddy, Karen State, more than 3,000 homes have been affected by the floodwaters, with local communities setting up 10 schools and temples as displacement camps and have transported COVID-19 patients to alternative facilities.

The floods have added an additional threat of the spread of COVID-19, as those displaced are often unable to properly adhere to physical distancing measures in temporary shelters. For those in IDP and refugee camps the situation is sereve, especially for the Rohingya displaced at Cox’s Bazar Refugee Camp in Bangladesh where three adults and three children died from a landslide and 200,000 people stranded from floods, and yet again displaced. Four thousand shelters have been destroyed, with some entirely covered in mud and with more heavy rain expected in a part of the world acutely prone to natural disasters.

“Myanmar’s humanitarian needs are overwhelming, but they cannot be met by engaging with the same perpetrators of the grave human rights abuses that relief aid intends to address.”

Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of the Advisory Board to Progressive Voice

This has added an unwanted burden in a growing list of burdens now befalling the people of Myanmar. The humanitarian crisis and the suffocating COVID-19 pandemic are wreaking havoc on people’s lives. The response from the international community has been weak and ineffectual as Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of the Advisory Board to Progressive Voice outlined in her opinion piece in The New Humanitarian. Her article calls on international aid groups to engage with the local humanitarian providers, the National Unity Government (NUG) and the COVID-19 Task Force – diverting away from the murderous military junta, who will only use the aid for their political gain. She says “Myanmar’s humanitarian needs are overwhelming, but they cannot be met by engaging with the same perpetrators of the grave human rights abuses that relief aid intends to address.”

In a functioning and free democracy, where the military was under civilian control, the military would be tasked to assist in mitigating the flood damage, assisting civilians displaced from their homes and conducting rescue missions. Additionally, a centralized government response team would be assisting people on the ground, putting disaster action plans into place and sending out aid to those in need. Yet, the military junta has made a coordinated response to this disaster impossible through their attempt to dismantle the government since the attempted coup and is actively working against the people of Myanmar in their struggles to fight COVID-19, the floods and humanitarian crisis. The military junta is weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic for their political ends and continuing to prosecute politicians, doctors, civil society and civilians through a campaign of terror and violence. Last Friday, a charity working to supply oxygen to civilians afflicted with COVID-19 had their oxygen seized by the junta for their own use, under an unlawful decree to monopolize the supply and distribution of oxygen to serve their own rank and file – starving civilians in desperate need of oxygen.

Meanwhile the junta has falsely declared the election a nullity and without any legal authority or legitimacy pronounced themselves as a ‘caretaker government’ until August 2023, while the people of Myanmar are united in denouncing them and showing their overwhelming support for a genuine federal democracy. This step is straight out of the playbook for previous military regimes, showing the international community its hand by following in the footsteps of three generations of military regimes by having no intention to give up on trying to suppress democracy in Myanmar. This unlawful move ignores the fact Myanmar has the NUG, the vast majority of whom were elected in the November 2020 Elections and have the overwhelming support of the people. This government is the most diverse in Myanmar’s history, with the inclusion of representatives of ethnic peoples, general strikes and having its first openly gay minister.

People on the ground continue with their defiance, such as in Mandalay where peaceful protesters, including students and monks, hit the pavement and voiced their unwavering opposition to the military junta and held signs supporting the NUG. The junta has militarized the city of Mandalay, stationing themselves at hospitals, schools, pagodas and public spaces. One female protester, Thu Thu Zin (25) was shot and killed by the junta during the protest, with military personnel taking her and cremating without her family’s permission. Her friends have vowed to continue protesting in her name saying “We have to work harder. We’re never backing down”.

This unwavering and undeniable courage in the face of tyranny must serve as a reminder to the international community and international aid organizations that they must persist in supporting the people of Myanmar and the NUG as they forge ahead in their aspirations for a genuine federal democracy. Additionally, they must give their support to local civil society, ethnic based civil society and cross border humanitarian aid groups to deal with the overwhelming effects of COVID-19, the unfolding humanitarian crisis caused by the military junta and the floods. This is the way to support the people who the aid is intended for, rather than to lend legitimacy to their abusers. These aid organizations must shift the orthodox paradigms of aid distribution, and choose to support partners who genuinely have the best interests of the people as the primary goal.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.


Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Student Unions’ Statement to Urge Stronger and Immediate International Action

By 178 Student Unions in Myanmar and Dispora

Myanmar: Covid-19 surges unchecked, overwhelming shattered healthcare system

By Amnesty International

RCEP agreement will legitimise the military dictatorship in Myanmar and fails to provide benefit to Australian workers

By Australian Council of Trade Unions

BHRN releases newest report documenting crimes against humanity committed by the Tatmadaw

By Burma Human Rights Network

SOMO Representing 474 Myanmar CSOs vs. Telenor ASA: Telenor’s irresponsible disengagement from service in Myanmar

By Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and 474 Myanmar-based Civil Society Organisations

ပြည်ထောင်စုလွှတ်တော်ကိုယ်စားပြုကော်မတီ ကြေညာချက်အမှတ်၊ ၃၄/၂၀၂၁

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

လူ့ဘောင်သစ်ဒီမိုကရက်တစ်ပါတီ၏ နိုင်ငံရေးအမြင် သုံးသပ်ချက် ၃/၂၀၂၁

By Democratic Party for a New Society

COVID-19: The EU mobilises additional financial support to help the population in Myanmar

By European Commission

Myanmar: Junta Escalates Media Crackdown

By Human Rights Watch

မိုးညှင်းမြို့နယ် ပြည်သူ့ကာကွယ်ရေးတပ်ဖွဲ့ ဖွဲ့စည်းပြီးကြောင်းထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်၊ ကြေညာချက်အမှတ် – ၁/၂၀၂၁

By Mohnyin People Defence Force

ND-Burma Condemns Myanmar’s Handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in new briefing paper: “How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response”

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Myanmar: Expert calls for “COVID ceasefire”; urges new UN resolution

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar: Six Months Since Coup, Horror Mounts for Children Amid Killings and COVID-19 Deaths

By Save the Children

၂၀၂၀ ပြည့်နှစ် ရွေးကောက်ပွဲရလဒ်နှင့် စပ်လျဉ်းသည့် ရှမ်းတိုင်းရင်းသားများဒီမိုကရေစီအဖွဲ့ချုပ်၏ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Shan Nationalities League for Democracy

Myanmar Economy Expected to Contract by 18 Percent in FY2021: Report

By The World Bank

၂၀၂၁ ဘဏ္ဍာနှစ်တွင် မြန်မာ့စီးပွါးရေးသည် ၁၈ ရာခိုင်နှုန်းအထိ ကျုံ့သွားမည်ဟု ခန့်မှန်းသည် – အစီရင်ခံစာ

By The World Bank

Joint statement from UNFPA and UN Women in Myanmar: impacts of the compounded political and health crisis on women and girls in Myanmar

By United Nations Population Fund and UN Women

UNFPA နှင့် UN Women မှ ပူးတွဲ သတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအတွင်း ပိုမိုဆိုးရွားလာသော နိုင်ငံရေးနှင့် ကျန်းမာရေးဆိုင်ရာ အကျပ်အတည်းများက အမျိုးသမီးနှင့် မိန်းကလေးများအပေါ် သက်ရောက်မှုများ

By United Nations Population Fund and UN Women

reports

Reports

At an impasse: How decade-long dictatorship, systemic oppression and social conservatism empowered (or fueled) discrimination and, stigma towards LGBTI people in Myanmar

By Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

အမျိုးသမီးများဆိုင်ရာ လစဉ် သတင်းအနှစ်ချုပ်

By Burmese Women’s Union

Before our Very Eyes: Myanmar’s Military Junta commits Crimes Against Humanity while the International Community Fails to Act

By Burma Human Rights Network

Bitter reversal: Myanmar military coup wipes out press freedom gains

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Myanmar: Coup Leads to Crimes Against Humanity

By Human Rights Watch

The Tatmadaw’s Attempts to Legalize Its Human Rights Violations

By Karen Human Rights Group

အလုပ်သမားဝန်ကြီးဌာန ရက် ၁၀၀ ဆောင်ရွက်ချက်များအား ပြည်သူသို့ အစီရင်ခံစာ

By Ministry of Labour (National Unity Government)

Health Is A Human Right: How the Myanmar Junta is Violating Humanitarian Principles in their COVID-19 Response (Burmese)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

TBC’s 2020 Annual Report

By The Border Consortium

Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 9 | 30 July 2021

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

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