STORY: Cyclone Mocha Impact OCHA – WHO- UNHCR
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
RELEASE DATE: 16 May 2023
Dozens feared dead in Myanmar as Cyclone Mocha creates ‘nightmare scenario’ for aid teams
Humanitarians expressed deep concern on Tuesday for Myanmar’s most vulnerable communities after the “nightmare scenario” created by the passage of Cyclone Mocha.
With winds recorded at up to 250 kilometers per hour at the coast, the storm tore through villages in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Sunday, leaving villagers to piece together their ruined homes while they wait for aid and support.
According to reports, Mocha ripped off roofs, smashed fishing boats, uprooted trees and brought down power lines and telecommunications, terrifying the population, said the UN aid coordination office, OCHA.
It was “a nightmare scenario for the cyclone to hit areas with such deep pre-existing needs,” OCHA added. The agency is now coordinating efforts to provide rescue and relief.
“As the cyclone cut a swath through Rakhine and in northwest, 5.4 million people are expected to have been in the path of the cyclone facing winds in excess of 90 kilometers per hour,” said Ramanathan Balakrishnan, Myanmar Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim. He added that of these, “we consider 3.1 million people to be most vulnerable to cyclone impacts by taking together indicators of shelter quality, food insecurity and, of course, poor coping capacity. It is really a nightmare scenario for the cyclone to hit areas with such deep pre-existing needs.”
According to OCHA, these are some of the poorest parts of the country where people are still reeling from COVID, conflict resulting from the military coup in February 2021 and the ongoing political and economic upheaval. Vulnerable communities are now also on the frontline of the climate crisis.
Coping capacities are really stretched to the limit and the need for humanitarian support will be extremely high.
“The cyclone was packing winds of 250 kilometers per hour as it approached the coast, ripping off roofs, uprooting trees, bringing down power lines and smashing fishing boats”, Mr. Balakrishnan said. “It was a truly terrifying experience for those in the path of the cyclone, many thousands of whom had taken refuge in evacuation centers and now face a massive cleanup and huge reconstruction effort ahead.”
Myanmar appears to have borne more direct impact from the cyclone. Mr. Balakrishnan said that the Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar is less than 10 per cent funded. To be able to respond to these additional needs from the cyclone and to continue the existing response across the country, more financial support from donors is needed.
According to OCHA, 17.6 million people were already in humanitarian need in Myanmar, before this disaster. That is the same number of people in humanitarian need as in Ukraine and it is only likely to increase once the impact of the cyclone is fully assessed, the agency said.
“We are yet to get a full picture of the damage elsewhere in the cyclone's path, of course, but we fear for the worst given that the majority of the shelters in this very impoverished part of the country are mostly made of bamboo, and they stood still little chance in the face of these winds,” said Myanmar’s interim Resident Coordinator. He described how one spokesperson from camps for internally displaced people in Sittwe said that the storm “hit camps hard this time causing destruction and washing away shelters and latrines. They said the immediate needs are shelter, clean water and sanitation.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) started working with national and local authorities to deliver health care to people affected by the cyclone both in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“WHO has mobilized health supplies to treat 200,000 people. Water purification tablets have also been provided. We are prioritizing supplies and equipment requested by the health cluster partners,” said Dr Edwin Salvador, Regional Emergency Director at the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia. He added that “as in any flood areas where access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a challenge, there is still a risk of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis and those caused by mosquitoes such as dengue and malaria.”
WHO has set up an incident management team and emergency operation centre in its Yangon office which is connected with the field offices, including the areas affected by the cyclone, to coordinate readiness and response activities.
“Unofficial reports indicate 14 health facilities across the country have been damaged. We are still gathering more information on this. Roads from the capital Yangon to Sittwe in Rakhine appear to be functional”, said Dr. Salvador. “The UN staff are headed to Sittwe today to see the damage and meet the local health workers to gather more information.”
More than two million people were living in the path of Cyclone Mocha, including hundreds of thousands of mainly ethnic Rohingya who remained in Rakhine following the 2017 military crackdown, in squalid camps with severe restrictions on their movement.
“We have also advocated for relaxation in travel authorizations and relaxation in importation of commodities and ability to travel to access communities,” said Mr. Balakrishnan. “We have pre-submitted travel authorizations for our teams to be deployed, and we hope that these approvals will be coming in the next couple of days.” He added that “the one thing we do not want is politicization of humanitarian aid.”
Despite earlier fears, cyclone Mocha did not cause as much damage at the world’s largest refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which is home to nearly a million mainly ethnic Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar in 2017. According to the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR), the cyclone nonetheless impacted 21,148 individuals from the Rohingya community and about 4,500 households were affected.
“The Rohingya refugees in the camps at Teknaf and neighboring Bangladeshi communities were the most affected, with thousands of shelters and services, facilities destroyed, putting families at greater risk of the upcoming monsoon season,” said UNHCR’s spokesperson Olga Sarrado.