Higher Ground: Disaster prevention in Myanmar

Cows, like the ones pictured here, will benefit from the building of this platform, named the “safe-land project,” which is taking place in the worst hit area of the Ingapu township in the Hinthada district. Photo © IFAW/M.FelixMonsoon season has just begun in Myanmar. The following blog has just come in from IFAW partner Maiken Olsen, who recounts her experience right after Cyclone Komen, her first disaster deployment, and her subsequent visits to assist a local community and embark on a new disaster risk reduction project. Maiken, based in Norway, co-founded the organization Giving a Future Animal Aid (GAF), which operates in Myanmar. IFAW and GAF joined forces to help animals affected by the floods.--JG

It is hard to tell the emotions of a cow. They stand there, always calm, chewing on grass. I cannot imagine what it’s like to stand with my legs in water for up to two weeks, when the skin starts to degrade.

And still, despite these conditions, the cows we first encountered were faithfully standing by their owners on the farms for which these animals represent a lifeline. In the rice-paddy area of Myanmar, the cow is the plough and means of survival for many disadvantaged people with no other income. They live in a geographically flat area that experiences floods every year- with no higher land to escape to.

The stilt houses and barns help the smaller animals get off the ground, but not the large, heavy cows.

In August 2015, immediately following the floods, we visited one village where all 70 people and their chickens, pigs and dogs had stayed inside a single room of a small monastery for two weeks. Two weeks of nearly 3 meters of standing water, the cattle outside with water up to their necks. Exhausted, some died when they could no longer stand on their feet.

In the Ayeyarwaddy region, most villagers own only 1 or 2 cows; they are given names and treated like part of the family. It was a desperate situation for farmers to keep the cows’ heads above water with no way to lift them out.

READ: Responding to floods in Myanmar for first time

The situation did not seem desperate once the water was gone. But there would be food shortages in the whole region for the next three months because all the grass was covered in mold. Other cows passed away after suffering from diseases or malnutrition after the water drained.

IFAW committed to help. As one of the first international animal welfare organizations to work in Myanmar after many years of totalitarian rule, IFAW worked together with GAF and Myanmar Veterinary Association (MVA) to get an invitation to work with the farmers in the delta region during and after the disaster.

The flood in 2015 was the worst in a hundred years, but still these annual losses of animals' lives are devastating the local economy.

It was clear we needed to think long term, and a second assessment was conducted in December 2015. After surveying the villagers, asking about their needs, a local Disaster Response Committee was formed and plans of building an earthen platform where the most exposed livestock could take refuge during floods started materializing.

This was a simple idea, but in an area with no hills and no valleys, it can mean life or death. We named the building of this platform "the safe-land project.”

Collaborating with the local Livestock, Breeding and Veterinary Deaprtment (LBVD), land was bought in January and building took place over the next few months. The area selected for the pilot-project was in the worst hit area of the Ingapu township in the Hinthada district. The 10 villages are located between two rivers which also makes it hard to move the cattle.

With a new platform, and the addition of boats for transport, we are excited to see what kind of change this will make for both people and their faithful animals in the years to come.

The safe-land project is only in the beginning phase, so we will have to wait another season before it can be used as a refuge. We look forward to sharing updates on the safe-land and related-training activities after the monsoon season.

--MO

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