UN official: Cyclone Mocha and moving landmines threaten displaced people in Rakhine
At least 200 deaths have been confirmed. On the ground, the situation is complicated by collapsed bridges. Many shelters have been swept away, including in Buddhist monasteries. A UNHCR official tells AsiaNews that the main concerns now are the spread of waterborne diseases and the movement of landmines caused by flooding.
Sittwe (AsiaNews) – At least 200 people are confirmed dead, especially among displaced people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, following the passage last week of Cyclone Mocha. The border region in neighbouring Bangladesh, which hosts tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, was also affected.
Rakhine is in western Myanmar. Here, “the impact of the cyclone has been devastating, with Sittwe Township hardest hit,” said Fabien Faivre, external relations officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaking to AsiaNews.
“Homes, shelters and public infrastructure have been severely damaged throughout Rakhine State. We are extremely saddened by local reports of deaths and very concerned about people missing, including amongst internally displaced communities.”
Now, “People we have spoken to are in need of food, shelter, healthcare, and safe drinking water. Waterborne disease and the movement of landmines due to the flooding are major concerns.”
Although the UNHCR had "prepared and set aside shelter materials and core relief items including blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, mosquito nets” in anticipation of the cyclone, in “all internally displacement peoples’ camps, shelters have been severely damaged, requiring immediate emergency repair or reconstruction support. Infrastructure and community centres have not been spared.”
Complicating the logistical situation and humanitarian relief efforts, “Several bridges that provide access to displacement sites have been washed away and are hampering movement”.
Faivre explains that, “Cyclone-affected communities are struggling to repair their homes amid surging commodity prices. For example, the prices of aluminium roofing sheets and roofing iron have reportedly risen quite drastically.”
Even before the cyclone, residents in Displaced People’s camps were already in a desperate situation. At present, “The devastation of Cyclone Mocha compounds the hardships of some 200,000 displaced people in Rakhine, of which 155,000 are Rohingya who were displaced since 2012.”
The later “were already extremely vulnerable and remained highly dependent on humanitarian assistance. They live in particularly precarious conditions, mostly in coastal areas which exposed them even more to Cyclone Mocha.
“Because they are marginalized – which include impediments in obtaining citizenship, restriction in movement and access to basic services such as education and healthcare – they will face greater hardships in the aftermath of the cyclone.”
The mostly Muslim Rohingya are concentrated in Rakhine, but are not recognised by Myanmar’s central government. Stateless for all intents and purposes, they have been the victims of brutal repression campaigns by the country’s Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) since 2017.
The state is also home to an ethnic armed force, the Arakan Army (AA), which has repeatedly clashed with Myanmar’s regular army. In November 2022 a ceasefire was arranged , and so far, it “continues to hold but remains fragile,” the UN official notes. However, “some 75,000 largely ethnic Rakhine people [have been] displaced by the Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw conflict.”
Unfortunately, “Most of them are sheltering in Buddhist monasteries where their shelters have been wiped out by the cyclone. They too have become more vulnerable. With the fragile ceasefire between the AA and the Tatmadaw and movement of landmines due to the flooding, it is becoming more challenging for them to return to their places of origin.”
Rakhine State is not the only part of the country affected by Cyclone Mocha. North-western Myanmar has also been heavily impacted; “houses have been blown and washed away as well as flooding of crops and fields”; in Kachin State, “winds and rains have damaged displacement camps. According to partners on the ground the main needs are shelter, relief items, water and sanitation, food, livelihoods, healthcare, and infrastructure repairs.”