Burma Issues Cyclone Warning

Tens of thousands of Rohingyas who were displaced by a violent communal strife between Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims last year have sheltered at camps in Sittwe and other cities in Arakan State. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—Burma’s government warned Saturday that a new cyclone barreling north into the Bay of Bengal could threaten the country’s western coast next week, raising fears the storm could swamp low-lying camps housing tens of thousands of embattled Rohingya Muslims who fled sectarian violence last year.

The brunt of the cyclone is currently heading toward Chittagong, Bangladesh. But its direction could still shift northeast and hit Burma’s Arakan State when it makes landfall at midweek, Burma’s Meteorology Department and humanitarian aid officials monitoring the situation said.

The storm is predicted to hit late Wednesday or Thursday morning, and heavy rains and strong winds are expected to batter Arakan State regardless. Around 140,000 people—mostly Rohingya—are living in flimsy tents and makeshift shelters in the region after two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence there last year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Nearly 70,000 of those displaced are in low-lying areas along the coast that are highly susceptible to tidal surges and flooding and should be moved to higher ground, said Ashok Nigam, the United Nations’ resident and humanitarian coordinator.

“We’re very concerned,” Nigam told The Associated Press. “We need to be prepared for the worst.”

Burma’s southern delta was devastated in 2008 Cyclone Nargis, an intense storm which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people.

Kelland Stevenson, country director for the international charity Save the Children, said aid agencies in Burma held an emergency meeting Saturday to check stocks of food and shelter and draw up contingency plans.

“The information we’re getting now is that the storm is tracking away from Rakhine [Arakan] State, but it can change course at any minute,” Stevenson said.

And either way, “there will be rain,” he added. “It is likely to bring a significant amount of water.”

Aid groups have issued warnings for weeks over the plight of the displaced amid fears that annual monsoon rains could wreak havoc in their camps and spark outbreaks of cholera or other diseases. But discussions over where to move the Rohingya have been complicated by widespread anti-Muslim sentiment, which still runs high nearly a year after unrest between the areas ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya erupted in June 2012.

The violence has largely segregated Arakan State along religious lines, with prominent Buddhists—including monks—urging people to boycott Muslim businesses. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been confined to cramped camps, their movement heavily restricted. Unable to go home, most cannot work or attend school.

The Rohingya have suffered discrimination for decades. Long viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, most are denied citizenship despite the fact that many have lived in Burma for generations.

On Saturday, state television broadcast cyclone warnings and President Thein Sein instructed regional authorities to be ready in case the storm hits. Myo Thant, a spokesman for Arakan State, said officials there had issued warnings in the camps and are identifying evacuation locations in case the cyclone threat increases.

Chit Kyaw, the deputy director of Burma’s Department of Meteorology, said that if the cyclone stays on its course toward Bangladesh, its swirling arms could sweep over Buthidaung and Maungdaw in northernmost Arakan State.

Nigam, the senior UN official, said the United Nations is urging the government to move the most vulnerable displaced people in Arakan to higher ground in case disaster strikes. He named three areas with high concentrations of displaced Muslims, all of them south of Buthidaung. They are the state capital, Sittwe, Pauktaw to the east, and Myebon farther south.

Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win and Yadana Htun contributed to this report.

2 Responses to Burma Issues Cyclone Warning

  1. It’s too early (to pimpoint) to say where the cyclone will landfall. How ever it is sure that this natural disaster will bring strong wind – enough to knock down all living things on the ground in its vicinity.To encounter this powerful cyclone, we need sepcial alert, in any possible place, where this monster cross the coast. Please listen to weather news, specifically weather news issued by the Department of Metoerology and Hydrology.
    I hope that the residents in western coast (Rakhine coast) and deltaic have had experience of tropical related phenomena such as strong wind and high tide (strom surge). Collect the things you may need before/when/after the cyclone. If you have strom shelter center, you are the first one to be there and of course your family too. Face the disaster and save your lives.

  2. The Ordinary People of Burma


    The last time a cyclone hit Myanmar was in 2008 after the Salfron Revolution when monks and innocents were killed.

    This time a cyclone is coming to hit the Arakan State after the senseless and irrational destructions and killings in the area and in the country.

    All these senseless destruction and killings must stopped.

    Take heed!

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