The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Myanmar

Eyewitness recounts hours-long trudge through landslide sludge

Roads and bridges were destroyed by the landslides
(Liselott Agerlid)

A week ago, Liselott Agerlid, a political counsellor for the Swedish government in Bangkok, set off on a routine trip to Myanmar's Northern Rakhine State to visit projects co-financed by Sweden.

But when three days of monsoon rains caused the worst flooding and landslides in memory in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, home to thousands of stateless ethnic Rohingyas, Agerlid found herself stranded and with no choice but to hike back along the crumbling remnants of the area’s main roads and footpaths.

“We had been told there would be no point in waiting for better weather as landslides had completely destroyed the road and any repairs would take months,” Agerlid told IRIN after returning to Bangkok. “We set off on foot. The road - or what was left of it - was covered in mud, sometimes [knee-deep].”

The floods and landslides led to at least 63 deaths and affected thousands of families, according to the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

“The road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung that we'd travelled with such ease two days earlier could on Wednesday [16 June] only be passed on foot,” she said. 

Landslides left the route between Maungdaw and Buthidaung covered in rocks, soil and trees, forcing Agerlid and her colleagues to haul themselves up and down ravines, through mud and creeks, for five-and-a-half hours.

"The people we met and passed were extremely kind and helpful. I don't think I've ever taken so many strangers' hands in one day. Helping hands were reaching out everywhere, as locals constantly assisted us and each other in getting out of the deeper mud areas and climbing up slippery paths.

"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out"

Liselott Agerlid
"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out"...
Monday, June 21, 2010
Eyewitness recounts hours-long trudge through landslide sludge
"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out"...

Photo: Liselott Agerlid
"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out"

"When my colleagues lost their flip-flops in the mud, strangers would run up and dig them out. Nowhere on our walk did we witness people in distress or despair, adding to my growing perception of an extremely strong and resilient people.”

But while there were smiles along the way, on her journey she was struck by the devastation caused to the region.

“Many houses were completely crushed by earth and mud, others flooded with mud and water. Whole families had died, some people [were] severely injured. Thousands were forced to leave their homes. Water ponds were full of mud and some of the rice was [ruined].

“I tried to hold back tears and rage at the unfairness of it all as we spoke to villagers about how to rebuild their homes [and restore] access to food and water.”

Aid workers in the region have been mobilizing to get aid to those most affected. A boat carrying humanitarian assistance left from Yangon on 20 June, while another is slated to depart on 24 June, said Vincent Hubin, deputy head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The government is well in the driving seat, which is a good thing. They’ve shared a first list of needs, and they are refining it,” Hubin said by telephone from Yangon.

Government officials have said they are repairing the road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung, as well as providing logistical support for humanitarian agencies, he said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.