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As monsoonal floodwaters continue to cause devastation in four of Myanmar’s 14 states, two Myanmar students are calling for support from the ANU community.
Chit Win, a PhD candidate, and Aye Chan Maung, a Master of Environmental Management student, are currently studying in Australia, far from their homes in Myanmar. As members of the ANU Myanmar Students Association (ANUMSA), they are calling for donations to aid the relief effort in Myanmar.
“There has been torrential rain and flooding for the past three weeks,” explains Chit Win.
“During the monsoon season, the high- and low-pressure systems usually move over Myanmar. Unfortunately, this monsoonal storm has stayed put over the country, causing a huge amount of rainfall.”
The Myanmar emergency services have been overwhelmed by the size of the disaster. The flood was quite unexpected for some residents, explains Aye Chan.
“Some of flooding is taking place in the country’s dry zone. The people in these regions have never experienced floods like this before.”
Chit Win says this has presented unique challenges for in the relief effort.
“When the emergency teams come to rescue the flood victims, some of [the victims] are reluctant to get in a boat because they’ve never even seen one before. Also, they don’t want to leave their cattle, which are part and parcel of the agricultural economy. They would rather stay with their cattle than leave them behind.”
The floods are yet another blow to the country, which has experienced three major natural disasters in recent years.
“First there was Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Then there was Cyclone Giri in 2010. Now we have the floods, so we need to learn from the past,” Aye Chan says.
In spite of the challenges the flood has posed, according to Chit Win there is relief that the government’s emergency response has improved.
“If you look at the previous regime compared to the current one, it seemed like the government was accused of creating extra barriers to solving the crisis. The old regime was cautious about the flow of international aid. This time the attitude of the government has improved, though challenges remain. They are looking at the bigger picture and helping coordinate relief.”
Social media has also played a big part in coordinating the relief effort.
“One of the big differences between this flood and Cyclone Nargis is that now most people are using social media. It’s a good tool for raising awareness and coordinating different groups,” says Aye Chan.
The natural disaster is a reminder for both students about why they are in Australia to study.
“We are not able involved directly in the relief effort,” says Chit Win, “but we see a role to play. From Canberra, we can give intellectual inputs in handling disaster. As we can see the forest for the trees while at ANU, we can see where the gaps are in policy-making. This is one way that we can make a positive contribution, apart from helping to raise donations.”
Along with other members of ANUMSA, Chit Win and Aye Chan have created a Go Fund Me crowdfunding project, with the aim of raising $10,000 for the relief effort.
“We are committed to doing what we can to help in Myanmar. As an academic institution we can help in a number of ways. The first way is the public awareness in and outside the campus. When you look at the international media there is very little space allocated to the flood. So one of the things that we aim to do is raise awareness,” says Chit Win.
“The second way we can help is with our intellectual contribution when this kind of disaster happens. This can give policy-makers and international NGOS ideas about what is going on. We help identify gaps in the relief effort and provide advice on the best approach to these problems.”