Myanmar flooding and the response of the mobile community

UN OCHA Update: Heavy rains have caused floods and landslides in several parts of Myanmar during the last two weeks of July. Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh on 30 July, brought strong winds and heavy rains, further exacerbating monsoonal flooding and resulting in flash floods and landslides in 12 of Myanmar’s states and regions . On 31 July, the President’s Office announced natural disaster zones in Chin State, Sagaing Region, Magway Region and Rakhine State.

Some Government reports put the death toll at 100, with over 1 million people affected by monsoonal floods across 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions since mid-July.

As well as displacing more than 260,000 people and destroying approximately 1.2 million acres of rice fields, the floods have also disrupted mobile network operations of Ooredoo, Telenor and Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). The flooding has damaged equipment and in some cases completely submerged tower sites. Mobile Operators in Myanmar have been working towards ambitious roll-out targets to bring affordable connectivity to citizens across the country- for example, Myanmar Telenor has a 5 year target to reach 90% population coverage and roll-out over 8000 base stations.

Telenor Myanmar reports that it is working closely with tower companies and local relief authorities to ensure its mobile network remains operational in the face of worsening flood conditions in parts of the country. The latest available reports state that, 41 of the 2,585 sites on Telenor’s network have either been shut down due to being submerged, or are inaccessible due to landslides and rising flood waters that are hampering recovery efforts. A majority of these sites are in Sagaing, Magwe, Bago and Ayeyarwaddy regions. To date, Telenor has delivered more than MMK 130 million (£67,000) to relief organisations who are delivering aid to communities in severely impacted areas. Telenor Myanmar has also activated an SMS fundraising platform, enabling subscribers to donate to a relief fund.

“We all know how bad the situation is and it looks like it’s getting worse,” Mr Rajaram, Head of Communications at Telenor Myanmar, told the Myanmar Times. “[Our main priority] is that the network remains available as far as possible so that [users] can reach out to loved ones, but that’s becoming increasingly challenging.”

Ooredoo Myanmar said on August 5 that a total of 50 sites in Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Magwe and Bago regions, and Mon, Sagaing and Kachin states had been impacted. Ooredoo has approximately 2500 base stations in Myanmar, putting the current percentage affected at around 2%.

Meanwhile, state-owned MPT is reporting no towers down, but said on August 5 that equipment had been damaged, perhaps by a transmission line cut by water or a landslide. The local tech community has also mobilised to develop an app and platform to provide more detailed information about water-levels and flood risk. MPT is reporting that as of August 12th, over MMK 207 million (£106,000) had been donated by subscribers.

Ooredoo Group and Ooredoo Myanmar have responded to the crisis in a number of ways. Ooredoo Myanmar has launched a SMS crisis-code, “Help Myanmar,” which invites customers to donate part of their credit balance to flood victims. Ooredoo has pledged to support the reconstruction of educational facilities in cooperation with relevant government ministries.

As well as distributing food, water, medicine and emergency relief through its distribution networks, Ooredoo Myanmar has provided support of over MMK 20 million (£10,000) in two affected states and is making donations in other flood affected regions of up to £108,000. Ooredoo Group has pledged to match this donation with an additional £120,000 to contribute to reconstruction efforts after flood waters recede.

Ooredoo Group is a signatory of the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter; a set of principals aimed at the mobile industry and focused on maintaining access to connectivity and communications for affected populations in times of crisis.

The risk of flooding is an annual accompaniment to monsoon season across the region. This year alone, severe flooding and landslides have been reported in Nepal, while parts of China experienced flash floods following Tyhpoon Soudelor last week. Preparedness for the mobile community is key, as is designing networks and business continuity plans with resilience at the fore.

More information on the humanitarian response can be found on Reliefweb.

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