Worst Flooding in Decades Threatens Buddhist Heritage Sites in Myanmar
As a devastating deluge of rains and flooding continues to exact a frightening human and economic toll in Myanmar, government departments report that its Buddhist heritage is also being threatened by what is the worst natural disaster to hit the country since Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people in May 2008.
At least 103 people have died, with more than a million “critically affected,” according to the government and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The floods, triggered by heavy rains since June, have affected 13 regions and states across the country, destroying houses, farmland, and infrastructure. The government has appealed for international help, and more than a dozen countries and blocs have donated cash, including the US and the EU. China has dispatched a convoy of trucks bearing supplies, while Australia and India have delivered aide in military aircraft.
The Rakhine government said nearly 100 Buddhist monasteries, as well as over 10,000 homes, 200 schools, and more than 170,000 acres of rice paddy, had been destroyed. Rakhine state minister of transport Hla Han said the townships of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Minbya, and Mrauk U had been most affected by the weather. “Buthidaung and Maungdaw in particular suffered from strong winds, and Buthidaung experienced severe flooding,” he said. (Radio Free Asia)
The Ministry of Culture’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library reported that three pagodas and a repository of Buddhist scriptures have been flooded in Mrauk U, an archaeologically significant town in Rakhine State and the seat of the Arakanese kingdom between the 15th and 18th centuries. The grounds of the palace in the center of Mrauk U have also been inundated.
U Sun Win, assistant director of the sub-regional archeology department in Mrauk U, said that low-lying temples and buildings were the most vulnerable. “Some of the stone pagodas are cracked at the base. We will need to do maintenance work because the foundation stones will have less strength than normal. We need to erect fences to protect the pagodas,” he said. (The Irrawaddy)
He noted that while the Danyawaddy and Vesali palaces had been slightly damaged, most of the city’s famous pagodas had so far been spared because their higher elevation had protected them from the floodwater. However, The Irrawaddy magazine also cited local resident Aung Soe Myint as saying that Ba Saw Phyu Pagoda had cracked and the interiors of Mintwutsae and Shwe Maw Daw pagodas were completely submerged.
Mrauk U was the capital of the Mrauk U kingdom, the most important and powerful Rakhine (Arakanese) kingdom, from 1430–1785. The surrounding area is hilly yet contains marshes, mangroves, and lakes. As the Mrauk U kingdom prospered, the Buddhist nobility and inhabitants built many pagodas and temples, leaving behind a rich historical, cultural, and religious heritage that stands to this day. Its collection of temples and pagodas is second only to that in Bagan in central Myanmar. Notable landmarks include Shite-thaung Temple (Temple of 80,000 Images or Temple of Victory), Htukkanthein Temple (Htukkan Ordination Hall), Koe-thaung Temple (Temple of 90,000 Images), and the Five Mahn pagodas. The country’s authorities intend to nominate the site for UNESCO World Heritage status, and have begun measures to better preserve the region’s historic Buddhist temples and other landmarks.
Floodwaters damage temples in Mrauk-U (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar flood: UN provides food to 435,000 people (The Times of India)
Myanmar evacuates thousands as worst floods in decades hit (Reuters)
Myanmar flood death toll tops 100, one million affected (Channel NewsAsia)
Aid Trickles Into Flood-Hit Myanmar as Death Toll Reaches 69 (Radio Free Asia)