For Victims of Cyclone Mocha, the Crisis Isn’t Over

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ASEAN Beat | Environment | Southeast Asia

For Victims of Cyclone Mocha, the Crisis Isn’t Over

While Bangladesh was spared the worst, Myanmar’s civil conflict is making it difficult for aid to reach those in need.

For Victims of Cyclone Mocha, the Crisis Isn’t Over

Men repair a shelter damaged by Cyclone Mocha in Nget Chaung 2 IDP camp in Rakhine state in Myanmar.

Credit: UNOCHA/ Pierre Lorioux

One week has passed since the United Nations sought a flash appeal of $375 million to help millions of people affected by a storm that ravaged sections of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The U.N. said it was requesting $122 million in supplementary funding in addition to $211 million in existing funds for cyclone response in Myanmar, while a separate $42 million was required for Bangladesh, including $36 million for Rohingya refugees living in camps in impacted areas.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, issued a dire warning, saying that “those affected are facing a long, miserable monsoon season if we cannot mobilize resources in time.” In both Bangladesh and Myanmar, additional heavy rain is predicted over the next few days, raising the possibility of severe flooding and landslides.

People in coastal areas of Bangladesh were terrified after hearing that Cyclone Mocha might be more destructive than the cyclones of 1970, 1991, or 2007. Fortunately, the cyclone didn’t hit Bangladesh with its full impact, and the government was adequately equipped to minimize the losses.

Following the cyclone warnings, the Bangladeshi authorities moved fast to evacuate 700,000 people from Mocha’s path, including 32,000 Rohingya refugees who had been relocated to camps on Bhasan Char, a previously uninhabited island in the Bay of Bengal. Gwyn Lewis, the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Dhaka, told journalists that though Bangladesh’s infrastructure and residences suffered significant damage, a “sophisticated disaster management system” managed to protect a number of lives.

Even then, more than 400,000 people were affected nationwide, and 40,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps saw their homes – often makeshift bamboo structures – destroyed or damaged.

The impact on Bangladesh, however, pales in comparison to the devastation in western Myanmar, which took a direct hit. Cyclone Mocha struck Myanmar’s western shore just over a week ago before moving inland, causing flooding, landslides, and powerful winds. As it approached Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the cyclone registered wind gusts of more than 250 kilometers per hour, making it one of the fiercest storms to impact the country. Almost no house in the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, was spared destruction.

The cyclone has brought enormous hardship to individuals who were already in distress. Rakhine state is home to a significant number of Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDPs), hundreds of whom may have been killed, according to some estimates. The U.N. is hoping to provide assistance to 1.6 million “of the most vulnerable” with the new funding it has requested.

Rakhine has a sizable population that lacks access to pharmacies and clinics and now they are in desperate need of these things. Furthermore, they require additional food supplies. So far, however, aid efforts have largely been limited to what local communities can provide themselves. For example, survivors in western Myanmar have been slowly delivering blankets and mosquito nets to their community of about 400 homes, many of which were completely destroyed.

Due to the damage caused by the storm, however, humanitarian agencies are finding it difficult to reach the hardest-hit communities. At the same time, they are still awaiting permission from Myanmar’s military government to even try.

Even the extent of the damage is obscured. While the National Unity Government – the shadow government opposing the military regime that seized power in a February 2021 coup – and others have counted more than 455 deaths, the junta claims that just 100 Rohingya died as a result of Cyclone Mocha.

The junta has also been accused of weaponizing aid, refusing to allow much-needed supplies to be transported to the most vulnerable areas. More than a week after the accident, a senior humanitarian worker who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said that supplies were still being held in warehouses in the commercial metropolis of Yangon while they awaited approval. To transfer supplies to Sittwe and provide aid on a much greater scale, complete and unhindered access is essential. For fear of reprisals from the military, assistance organizations in Myanmar are keeping their opinions to themselves.

The situation is particularly complicated as the military government does not control wide areas of Rakhine state. Aid efforts are also being run by the junta’s opponents, including the NUG and the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization that controls much of Rakhine.

In northern Rakhine state, the NUG has given survivors of Cyclone Mocha financial assistance. It gave each 1,000 households 20,000 Myanmar kyat ($9.53) each so they could buy tarpaulin. The NUG also reportedly provided 100 million kyat to the AA for use in its relief efforts. The United League of Arakan, the political wing of the AA, has been providing aid to those affected by one of the worst storms to ever hit the nation.

Given that the storm has ravaged the northeastern parts of both countries, Myanmar and Bangladesh must work together to help manage the disaster. At this moment, sharing information is crucial. Myanmar and Bangladesh regularly suffer the effects of cyclones, and any given storm in the area will impact both countries. As a result, experts from Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as the international community, stress the significance of taking an integrated approach and engaging in regional cooperation to minimize the severe economic and human costs.

More broadly, there should be a shared understanding of the challenges posed by natural disasters at the regional level. To address the problems, scientists from the Bay of Bengal’s other members – countries including Sri Lanka, Thailand, and neighboring India – should collaborate. China, as one of the important regional actors, can’t remain silent on this issue either. The deadly cyclone serves as a reminder of how urgent disaster management collaboration between South Asia and ASEAN is.

Environmentalists worry that further disasters could be brought on by climate change, particularly in the Bay of Bengal region, which has a large population. The problems of climate change, global warming, and the resulting rise in natural disasters are not only a burden for Asian nations; they are a worry for the entire world. The responsibility of helping the vast population that is currently in need should fall on the entire world community.