Fears for the safety of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in path of potentially devastating storm.
Thousands of people in Myanmar and Bangladesh are getting ready to evacuate ahead of Cyclone Mocha, which is expected to bring winds as fast as 175km an hour (108 mph) when it makes landfall on Sunday.
The storm is currently in the Bay of Bengal and moving northwards. It is expected to cross the coast between Sittwe in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
Authorities have warned of the danger of flooding, landslides and a storm surge of between 2 and 2.7 metres (6.6 feet to 8.9 feet).
“This is the first cyclone to threaten Myanmar this Monsoon season and there are grave concerns about the impact especially on already vulnerable and displaced communities,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in an update on Friday. It noted that more than 230,000 people in Rakhine are living in camps for displaced people “located in low-lying coastal areas susceptible to storm surge”.
About six million people in areas in the path of the storm – Rakhine and the three northwestern states of Chin, Magway and Sagaing – were already in need of humanitarian assistance, UNOCHA added.
With information as of this morning, 13 May 2023, 00:30 AM Myanmar Time, forecast map of Cyclone Mocha has been updated. It is now available on MIMU’s dedicated page along with other resources. https://t.co/GyFPicePZP pic.twitter.com/CJqXmAWjvr
— MIMU (@the_MIMU) May 13, 2023
Myanmar was plunged into crisis in February 2021 when the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Fighting between the military and civilian armed groups known as the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) has been raging in many of the areas now threatened by the storm. People have already been forced out of their homes due to aerial bombardment and arson attacks by the military.
The army used similar tactics in Rakhine in 2017 when it drove hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh where they continue to live in sprawling refugee camps.
Those settlements are also vulnerable to Cyclone Mocha and Bangladeshi authorities have said mosques as well as offices in the camps will be used as cyclone shelters.
UNOCHA said it had deployed a team to Sittwe in advance of the storm, while the International Federation of the Red Cross said it was working with the Myanmar Red Cross to pre-position food and other essentials as well as prepare rescue and relief equipment.
Military-appointed officials in Rakhine were also preparing for the storm, according to reports in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
On Telegram, meanwhile, the Humanitarian and Development Coordination Office of the United League of Arakan (ULA) said it was working with other organisations to move those at risk to “safe areas”. The ULA, the political wing of the Arakan Army, claims administrative control of some two-thirds of Rakhine state.
In 2008, more than 130,000 people were killed when Cyclone Nargis tore across the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta south of Rakhine. The scale of the devastation was so vast, the then-military government was forced to call in international assistance.
Thant Zaw said he lost several family members in Cyclone Nargis and had decided to take shelter at a monastery in Sittwe, the state capital.
“I told my family we should shelter at this monastery,” the 42-year-old told the AFP news agency.
“I have six children and I can’t lose my family again.”