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Disaster & Conflict

This Emergency Response is an Exercise in Keeping your Head Together

By Blaire Davis

Blaire Davis, from Rochester, NY, is currently working on Plan International’s emergency response to the floods in Myanmar. With August being the heart of the rainy season and with roads washed out and connectivity low, the situation is a challenge, but it’s one Blaire is taking on.

Plan's emergency response in Myanmar.

It’s eerily sunny in Sittwe, Myanmar. 

Intense flooding due to monsoon rains, exacerbated by Cyclone Komen in recent days, means the situation has been dire. 

For the time being, the rain has slowed, so our teams can get down to business and start assessing the situation on the ground. Thankfully, boats are now able to navigate the region’s rivers and roads.

I am part of Plan’s emergency response team in Myanmar, coordinating the organization’s flood response. It’s my first emergency response and one I will remember. 

At the moment, our priority is those people affected by the floods, in particular children and vulnerable communities. Plan has been working with the government and other international nongovernmental organizations (NGOS), to ensure our response is as coordinated and effective as possible. 

As access improves, our response will improve. Now that the flood waters have started to recede and people have begun returning to their communities from evacuation centers, I am able to go to communities and find out what villagers need. My team and I are expecting to cover 26-31 villages by the weekend, so it’s going to be a busy few days. 

The tenacity shown by villagers, and young people in particular, is incredible. I was attending a meeting at a school and while I met with the teachers, a student got up to continue teaching the class. The young student was able to switch between teaching the Myanmar alphabet and English seamlessly. It made me happy to see students participating at that level and in such a proactive way, even when faced with such difficulties. 

Communities in need

At this point, the needs of communities are urgent, basic, life-saving relief. 

People need safe, clean water. Wells are not a tenable option in most places in Rakhine, so people use manmade drinking ponds as their water source. It is estimated that 90-100 percent of ponds have been contaminated by the flood, so they need to be pumped out and refurbished before being re-filled. Because it is rainy season, we’re up against the clock. If we do not move fast, we will not only see increased incidences of dehydration, diarrhea, and other water borne diseases, but we will also face a drought in the next dry season – all of which will affect children disproportionately.

Markets are closed and stocks are destroyed, so people need food. Hygiene kits, tarpaulins to collect rain water, and water purification materials are also essential. 

Children are a priority, so in the coming weeks we will provide a safe space for children who have been affected by the flood. Flood-hit schools also need to be refurbished, so children have protective learning environments. As an education specialist, I will be focusing my efforts on this area next. 

In addition, livelihoods have been destroyed, so help will be needed to replant the rice paddies. If the work isn’t done in time, this vulnerable region will also face an acute food crisis in the coming months. 

Time to reflect

It’s been an intense week and the best way to describe how I am feeling is: caffeinated. Yet, I am also gaining energy and hope because of my team’s willingness to go the extra mile. Seeing NGOs working together and interacting with the government and the Rakhine community is also heartening, and I hope it builds trust. 

This is my first full emergency response to a natural disaster. I feel overwhelmed about 20 percent of the time, but we have an amazing, dedicated team at Plan, so I know we will get the work done. For me, this emergency response is an exercise in keeping your head together and not letting the million things you have to do preclude your ability to do anything. 
That is my mantra at the moment.

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