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Cablegate: Gob Tries to Whitewash Extensive Flood Damage

VZCZCXRO9940
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #1783/01 3420857
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 080857Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5499
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1263
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0064
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4410
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1880
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3656
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7162
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0567
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4751
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0990
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0994
RUDKIA/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0758
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2967
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0630
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001783

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS; PACOM FOR FPA, TREASURY FOR OASIA:AJEWELL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV EAGR BM
SUBJECT: GOB TRIES TO WHITEWASH EXTENSIVE FLOOD DAMAGE

REF: RANGOON 1542

RANGOON 00001783 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Closely-held GOB reports confirm that
severe flash floods in central Burma in October damaged over
200,000 acres in Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions and Shan
State. Despite unofficial reports of significant human
deaths and crop losses, the GOB has not officially
acknowledged that the floods caused any damage. Officials
ordered villagers in some towns to clean up all traces of the
flood, and prohibited affected residents from discussing the
disaster with strangers. The flood had a devastating effect,
destroying not only crops already in the field, but also
stores of food and seed, and will have both immediate and
long term effects on food availability in the region,
possibly leading to future shortages. End summary.

2. (SBU) Embassy Rangoon's agricultural specialist traveled
to Mandalay Division and Shan State on November 24 to 30 to
assess the damage caused by flash floods that occurred
October 8-10 (reftel). While official sources have not
released any public information on the flood, Embassy's
agricultural specialist was able to obtain access to
unreleased Ministry of Agriculture reports that confirm that
the floods damaged approximately 200,000 acres, with 2,000
acres totally destroyed. Water from the heavy rains and
overflowing rivers combined with broken dams, causing water
levels to rise five feet over flood stage in some areas. In
Kyaukse, Mandalay Division, the birthplace of regime ruler
Than Shwe, water reached to rooftops and destroyed many of
the town's food shops and stores of animal feed and
fertilizer. Authorities in Kyaukse warned residents not to
talk to strangers about the flooding, and ordered them to
white wash to cover mud and water marks on buildings.

3. (SBU) Traders with whom we spoke reported losses of 147
metric tons (MT) of rice and 241 MT of beans and pulses.
Only 20 MT were salvageable. The floods swept away several
smaller villages, and residents reported that they saw human,
livestock, and even elephant corpses floating in the water.
Large sections of main roads in Mandalay and
Sagaing Divisions and Shan State were washed out, and many
paddy fields and banana plantations were destroyed, making
dramatic changes in the landscape.

4. (SBU) A few local businesses and religious organizations
provided immediate relief to affected villagers, while the
GOB provided minimal assistance with some evacuations and a
few relief camps. International NGOs World Vision and Bridge
To Asia helped rehabilitate damage in their current areas of
operation, but officials did not allow them to extend
assistance to other locations. Almost a month after the
floods, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation officials
requested targeted assistance from FAO and WFP.
Representatives made a quick assessment, and WFP provided
funds for a Food for Work program to clear a clogged canal in
Mandalay Division. FAO requested some modest funding
assistance from the Bangkok regional office. When WFP
offered further assistance, GOB officials said that the USDA,
the government's political mass member group, or the Myanmar
Red Cross would provide it, and that no further outside
assistance was needed.

5. (SBU) Sagaing Division, one of the primary producing
areas for onions, was inundated. The price of onions, a
Burmese staple, had already risen by 400 percent in the last
two months; the flooding caused prices to soar even higher.
Tomato crops grown in the famous floating gardens of Inle
Lake in Shan State were almost entirely destroyed by rising
waters. Officials did not release excess water from Inle
Lake during the flooding, for fear of bursting Moe Pye Dam

RANGOON 00001783 002.2 OF 002


below the lake, so water levels at Inle Lake reached their
highest point in years. Many aquaculture farms flooded,
sending fish into the streets. In Shan State, Shwe-Nyaung
Township suffered the most damage, when waters flooded a
marketplace where traders had stored all their wares in
anticipation of the next day's weekly market day. Water
remained in the township for over a week, while some other
areas of Shan State were flooded for up to three weeks. One
rice shop we visited reported it had lost USD 100,000 worth
of goods. Water-soaked rice, fit only for animal
consumption, was selling for less than 50 cents per bag, but
still had few takers.

6. (SBU) Contacts at the Mandalay YMCA told emboff that
authorities gave only one day's warning before opening some
major dams in the region, exacerbating flooding in
agricultural lands. Since residents of the dry zone have
little prior experience with flooding, and little trust in
the authorities, few responded to the announcements of dam
openings in time. According to our contacts, some villages
and farmland in Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions were still
flooded in late November. Public infrastructure, including
bridges, dams, and railroad tracks, also suffered significant
flood damage.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The GOB's whitewashing of the flood's
damage will have long-term consequences. The regime refuses
to report how many people lost their lives, but we know that
a great many lost livestock and/or crops in the field. Many
of the stored grains and pulses, seeds, and fertilizers were
also lost or badly damaged. The people affected need
immediate help to rebuild infrastructure and replace lost
crops, as well as long term assistance to replace inputs for
the next plating season and get through the lean period
between harvests. Flood-driven inflation will squeeze
farmers even more. Unfortunately, rather than ask for help,
the GOB remains in denial and seeks to maintain a policy of
self- reliance, adding yet another burden to the load already
borne by Burma's rural poor. End comment.
VILLAROSA

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