Local Myanmar organizations step in with humanitarian response to heavy annual floods: The localisation of Humanitarian Response in the Ayeyarwaddy floods

Cash distribution in emergency flood response
“During the flood response we also took the opportunity to help communities found village based civil society organisations in each village. Those village based CSOs will lead village activities in the future.”
U Khin Maung Swe, Chairperson
Pan Tai Shin
Authour : Yee Mon Oo, Communications and Media Coordinator, Oxfam in Myanmar

In August 2016, annual monsoon weather flooded vast swathes of Myanmar, leaving destruction in its wake. Though much effort from communities and NGOs alike goes into preparing communities for these annual floods, each year the lives, livelihoods and property of many living along the swelling Ayeyarwaddy river are devastated by their impact. This year was no exception and to help people recover from the devastating impact of these heavy floods, local NGOs have been helping affected communities across the country, with support from international actors such as Oxfam.

When news came of the initial flooding, local Delta based organisations Alin Tan and Pan Tai Shin immediately began responding to the communities’ needs. Alin Tan and Pan Tai Shin are two local organizations which Oxfam has been working with over the years to increase accountability of Government – bringing officials and people together to discuss the needs and challenges faced by communities. When they started up their humanitarian response to help tackle the impact of the floods, they contacted Oxfam to seek support and to work together to respond to the impact of the floods in the communities they know so well. These local organizations are rooted in the community: they employ local development workers who understand the needs and challenges of local people, and most importantly, because they are based locally, with the right support from an international organization like Oxfam, they can respond to community needs fast.  They gained their first experience of humanitarian response in the 2015 floods, when Oxfam provided $100,000, combined with technical training and support, to enable them to reach 8,486 (4,460 women and 4,026 men)flood affected people during the first days and weeks of the crisis.

“Communities have specific needs which come from their environment and their own situation – like how many people are in their family, and how many are young or old. In the past, some of these families receive aid packages that were not right for them and didn’t meet their needs.” Says U Myint Oo, Secretary of Alin Tan. Because organizations like Alin Tan are local they can talk with the communities and understand their immediate needs after the floods. The local organizations use this information to tailor the aid packages and provide people with small amounts of cash instead of aid packages – this also helps to get the local market back on its feet again after the affects of the floods and is widely recognised as an important part of helping communities to recover from disasters: support for expanding this approach was a key outcome of the recently held World Humanitarian Summit.

U Myint Oo continues “We provided 8000 Kyats (approximately 6 USD) for each of the most vulnerable and the poorest of the affected communities. All our beneficiaries are chosen by the community members in a fair and open process, so all have a role to play in the accountability of the aid delivery.”

Like Alin Tan, Pan Tai Shin also provided cash hand outs of 8000 kyats to each vulnerable person. “Some families have more numbers than others. If we provide packages just to households, it won’t be fair. And different families have different needs. So we proposed to Oxfam to provide cash as the best option for the response.” U Khin Maung Swe, Chairperson of Pan Tai Shin said.  This meant villagers could use the money for what they needed most.

To help understand just what those community needs were, the local organisations visited the villages and met communities to analyse their needs,  and better understand how communities were accessing markets after the floods including how they expected to purchase the most important things they needed. When a disaster – like a flood – hits, it is critical to support communities as early as possible, so these kinds of assessments are rapid and targeted to a disaster context.  “During the flood response we also took the opportunity to help communities found village based civil society organisations in each village. Those village based CSOs will lead village activities in the future.” These will be activities to strengthen community engagement with Government and hold decision makers to account but they will also help to bring the communities together and be better prepared for when the floods next come. “Now we are able to link with INGOs to support other villages and Townships in our region” says U Khin Maung Swe. This demonstrates just how powerful – for the immediate catastrophe and for the future - aid can be when the resources and knowledge of local organisations are involved in humanitarian response.

 “I think letting local organisations lead the flood response is really worth it and can be more efficient for reaching affected victims – because local organizations are already familiar with communities and know what their needs are and the best way to respond.” U Myint Oo from Alin tan expressed.

 Oxfam funded these two local CSOs to support a total of 8486 people affected by the floods. Oxfam believes that localisation of humanitarian response will lead to more effective and efficient responses for the victims of all kinds of disasters. Oxfam has committed to the Charter for Change to help make this a reality.