Flood relief in Myanmar includes family planning supplies

Phoo Ngun, her husband Zaw Moe and their two daughters in the flood-devastated Ayayawady Region. Family planning supplies will help flood-affected women recover without worrying about unplanned pregnancies. © UNFPA Myanmar/Yenny Gamming
  • 31 August 2016

OHN PIN SU VILLAGE, Myanmar – Monsoon floods are an annual hazard for Phoo Ngun’s family. Although their bamboo home stands on tall stilts, their kitchen is submerged in rainwater. Ms. Phoo Ngun, 31, has set up a makeshift cooking area in their small living space.

Still, she counts herself lucky. More than half a million people in the Ayayawady Region have been affected by this year’s floods, according to the government. Damage has been widespread and several have been killed.

This time last year, the country saw some of the most devastating floods in its history. Ms. Phoo Ngun was six months pregnant at the time. She spent the monsoon and its aftermath anxious about recovering in time for the arrival of her baby.

This year, as the floodwaters recede, she has a different – but still critical – reproductive health concern: family planning.

Destruction, pregnancy and a hospital bill

Last year’s flooding unleashed massive destruction.

Youth volunteers reached Ms. Phoo Ngun, her husband Zaw Moe and their 10-year-old daughter by boat, delivering hygiene supplies and other assistance.

Ms. Phoo Ngun received assistance last year, when she was six months pregnant. This year, her concern is avoiding an unplanned pregnancy. © UNFPA Myanmar/Ben Manser

Large parts of their home required repairs, and Ms. Phoo Ngun needed access to antenatal care. Fortunately, there was a midwife in the village who was able to continue offering monthly check-ups.

The flood waters gradually receded, and Ms. Phoo Ngun’s due date came and went. Eventually, the midwife advised her to go to the Nyaungdon Hospital. Staff there tried to induce labour, but Ms. Phoo Ngun ultimately required a Caesarean section. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Although they had saved up for nearly a year, the $400 hospital fee was an enormous burden for the family, whose only income is Mr. Zaw Moe’s earnings as a day labourer.

Today, as the waters again overflow in the Irrawaddy River Delta Region, Ms. Phoo Ngun’s focus is keeping her family of four secure. This means making sure she is able to keep using family planning.

Ensuring access to contraceptives

“We have decided that two children are enough,” she said. “Every three months, I receive a contraceptive injection from the village midwife. It costs $1 each time, and this is affordable for us.”

Through its reproductive health supplies programme, UNFPA has supported the improvement of the contraceptive supply chain in much of Myanmar. As a result, the contraceptive shot has always been in stock when Ms. Phoo Ngun has needed it.

But with the monsoon rains cutting off access to her village, additional measures are needed to ensure women can plan their families.

As part of its humanitarian response, UNFPA is providing mobile clinics in flood-affected areas. UNFPA is also deploying reproductive health supplies, including safe delivery kits to assist with childbirth and contraceptives to help women avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Ms. Phoo Ngun knows that family planning will help her family meet its goals – especially their desire for economic stability.

Young people are playing a key role in humanitarian relief, arriving by boat to assist health staff, distribute dignity kits and test well water. © UNFPA Myanmar/Yenny Gamming 

“I hope for secure employment for my husband and the financial security it would bring us,” she told UNFPA.

Youth volunteers ensure safe drinking water

Ms. Phoo Ngun is naturally cheerful and, despite the damage around her, she is optimistic about the future.

She has been heartened to see members of the next generation playing a key role in the humanitarian response.

Volunteers from the UNFPA-supported Youth Information Corner in Sarmalauk arrived in her village by boat to assist health staff. They are also inspecting the hygiene of latrines and testing wells to ensure drinking water has not been contaminated.

Like last year, they are also distributing UNFPA-supplied dignity kits, which contain essential hygiene supplies such as soap and sanitary napkins.

Ms. Phoo Ngun hopes her daughter will one day pitch in to help the country, too.

“My aspiration for my oldest daughter is that she will become a schoolteacher," she said, adding with a laugh, "my little one is only nine months old – I have to get to know her better before I can tell what she will be suited for."

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