Increasing death tolls and damages in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – May 16 Scenes

MoeMaKa, May 17 2023

Increasing death tolls and damages in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha

2 days after the weakening of the Cyclone Mocha, which hit Rakhine State, Chin State, Magway Division and some parts of Sagaing Division from morning to midnight on May 15, we will see to what extent damages are. Death tolls are increasing, as well as the needs for emergency assistance for those affected by the cyclone.

Sittwe is the city with the largest population and was the city that was hit hardest by the storm. In the current situation, only Sittwe has seen and heard about the most losses from the storm. Even the reports of death and destruction in villages a few miles away from the city are not yet known in detail. Reports of hundreds of deaths in Rohingya refugee camps just a few miles away from Sittwe came out today for the first time, and the death toll is estimated to be over 400.

According to initial information, the refugee camps, where the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group lived restrictively, and opened after the conflicts between communities based on ethnicity and religion in 2012, were flooded by the rising waters when hit by the storm, causing Rohingya refugees to lose their lives. These refugee camps, which have existed for more than a decade, are strictly guarded by armed security and are not allowed to move freely. So, the details of how these camps are managed when the natural disaster hits and which organizations are responsible for being unable to make plans for evacuation, etc., have not emerged yet.

In some of the initial responses to the media, it was commented that someone in the camp gave warnings to evacuate, but the compliance of camp residents was weak. For those living freely in cities, they have easy access to information and are able to obtain adequate information about the severity of the impending storm. It is possible that the people living in refugee camps are not as concerned about the danger of the storm as they should be because of a lack of information, restrictions, and financial resources to manage the evacuation, etc.

When I hear about the loss of lives and the destruction of houses in the Rakhine and Rohingya refugee camps, I remember the words ‘double trouble’. In a situation where it is not easy to recuperate, the loss of lives and livelihoods when a natural disaster strikes, is unbearable for those who hear it.

In Sittwe, there is almost no house, office, business, or religious building that is not affected by the storm. Also, in cities such as Rathedaung, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Maungdaw, Kyaukphyu, etc., damages amount to about 90 percent.

Many questions are popping up in my head right now. What are immediate and urgent needs? They are clean drinking water, food, shelter and medical care for the sick. How are they helping to meet these needs? Is there any cooperation between armed organizations that are political oppositions? Even if there wasn’t, are there actions to prevent and hinder it? How far are the UN’s aid and relief efforts? What role do civil society organizations, charities, and community social assistance play? What is the number of casualties and injuries? Are international organizations allowed to provide assistance for emergency aid? Is there any kind of prohibition, monitoring, or interference by the military, like in Nargis?

It will be difficult to answer every question, but some recent information has gradually emerged. There are reports that more than 400 people are missing or dead in Rohingya refugee camps such as Thet Kae Pyin, Dar Pai, and Bay Dar. Also, more deaths have been reported in some townships, and we learned today that 14 people who were sheltering from the danger of the storm died in one place in Rathedaung.

Even though the death toll is many times less compared to Nargis, the question of why so many lives have been lost may arise as there have been monitoring and warnings about the danger of Cyclone Mocha for at least 10 days in advance.

It can be concluded that poverty, administrative management, military restrictions, and restrictions on human rights will be the causes of loss of life. Worried about leaving the home due to poverty, no money to go from one place to another, and a state of Rohingya refugees not being able to decide and evacuate in escape from disaster due to restrictions on going from one place to another, which is a human rights violation, situations where there is no money to evacuate are likely causes for loss of life. After the communal conflicts that occurred in 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Rohingya refugee camps are almost like prison camps because their human rights have been restricted for decades without freedom of travel. Such a situation has led to the conclusion that there may be more than 400 dead.

The impacts of Cyclone Mocha began to emerge on the evening of May 15 when the storm passed over Sittwe and crossed into Chin State, which borders northern Rakhine State, at midnight. At the moment, it is only 2 days and it is still difficult to predict how many more will appear.