UN Deploys Speedboats to Save Victims of Floods in Myanmar and Bangladesh

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–18 June 2010 – United Nations aid agencies are using speedboats to help rescue people from flood waters that have inundated villages in western Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh and killed dozens of people.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported yesterday that eight boats that are normally used by staff to reach remote villages were instead deployed to save 50 patients and 20 staff trapped in a hospital and more than 100 children stuck in their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Dinesh Shrestha, the head of UNHCR’s field office in the Maungdaw area, said the hospital patients were transferred to a nearby school for safety and then provided with blankets and mosquito nets.

“The national operators of our boats and their helpers have been enormously brave,” he said, adding that stocks of important medicines were also retrieved from the hospital before they were taken by the rising flood waters, which follow days of monsoonal rains on the Bangladeshi side of the border.

UNHCR has also provided plastic sheeting to about 4,500 people near the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazar whose homes were destroyed by floods or mudslides. At least 58 people are reported dead in Bangladesh alone as a result of the disaster.

More than 85 villages in Myanmar have been affected, and the flood damage to almost 40 is classed as severe. Numerous roads and bridges have been either cut or weakened.

UN aid agencies are meeting local authorities today in Myanmar to discuss the most urgent needs for flood victims in that country. The World Food Programme (WFP) and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also involved in the relief effort.

Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told journalists in Geneva that an inter-agency mission was also conducted earlier this week to assess the situation.

Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung, all in Rakhine state, are considered to be among the hardest hit areas.

But the area around Cox’s Bazar is also badly affected. UNHCR helps the Bangladeshi Government operate two refugee camps near the town that are home to Rohingya from northern Rakhine.