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President urges evacuation in Irrawaddy delta

A young man moves his boat in a flooded village outside Zalun Township, Irrawaddy Delta (REUTERS)

Burma’s president urged people to leave a low-lying southern delta region on Thursday with rainwater that has inundated much of the country flowing into the area threatening further flooding as rivers reached dangerously high levels.

The widespread floods that were triggered last week by heavy monsoon rains have killed 81 people, according to Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

President Thein Sein told people living in the Irrawaddy [Ayeyarwady] delta region to seek shelter as swollen rivers rose higher.

“It’s best to evacuate to a safe place in advance since natural disasters can’t be stopped once they start,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

About 6.2 million people, 12 percent of the national population, live in the region, a southwest area where the Irrawaddy and other rivers branch out into a delta leading to the sea.

Rangoon [Yangon], Burma’s largest city, has not experienced much flooding despite being near the delta.

A Reuters witness in Nyaungdon, a town in Irrawaddy Division, said some villages were flooded on Thursday with only roofs visible above the water and residents feared waters would rise.

The delta is the country’s major rice producing hub, but Soe Tun, Secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation, said much of the paddy in the area had been spared from flooding.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 101,000 acres (409 sq km) of paddy in Irrawaddy Division have been flooded, but just 180 acres were destroyed.

Country-wide, the impact on agriculture has been far greater. According to the ministry, 1.17 million acres of paddy field have been flooded, with 152,500 acres destroyed.

The government appealed for international assistance on Monday and supplies had started to arrive from abroad.

The call for help marked a change from 2008 when the then-military government shunned most outside aid after a cyclone killed 130,000 people, most in the same delta region.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier in the week toured flood hit areas, said international aid and donations needed to be organized to increase effectiveness.

“Generous donations which are uncoordinated tend to go astray or to prove less effective than they might be if they were part of a well laid plan,” she said in a video on Facebook.

Kyaw Moe Oo, a deputy director from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, said Yangon was not at risk from floods, but the department was monitoring water levels at reservoirs and dams around the city.