Cyclone Approaches West Burma, Raising Alarm for IDPs

By The Irrawaddy 10 May 2013

RANGOON—A tropical cyclone is expected to hit west Burma’s Arakan State next week, according to a warning by the US military on Friday, raising concerns of possible humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands of displaced people living in makeshift camps and flood-prone areas.

A “severe cyclonic storm” is expected to make landfall on Tuesday night, the US Navy and Air Force’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center has forecast, according to an alert by the Tropical Storm Risk, a UK-based storm forecaster.

One-minute maximum sustained winds could reach 166 km/h, while wind gusts may be even stronger, the alert said.

Tropical Cyclone 01B, which formed over the Indian Ocean, is expected to damage buildings, trees, mobile homes and piers in the state, with coastal and low-lying escape routes likely flooding several hours before arrival of the storm’s center, the alert said. There is also a potential for flooding farther inland.

Burma’s meteorology department said it was aware of the warning and preparing for the storm.

“We’ve already sent a warning to authorities in relevant regions, including the natural disaster prevention committee,” Kyaw Moe Oo, deputy director general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, told The Irrawaddy by phone from Naypyidaw on Friday.

Ahead of monsoon season, the UN refugee agency last month called on Burma’s government to urgently increase aid to Arakan State, where more than 100,000 people were displaced in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims last year.

“UNHCR is seriously concerned about the risks facing over 60,000 displaced people in flood-prone areas and in makeshift shelters,” a spokesperson said, according to an online statement by the refugee agency, which added that the monsoon season from May to September was expected to bring heavy rains and possible cyclones. “The most critical sites are in Sittwe, Pauktaw and Myebon, where the displaced are living near the coast and are vulnerable to tidal surges.”

The newly formed Tropical Cyclone 01B could affect areas in Bangladesh, India and Burma, according to Eric Leister, a meteorologist reporting for US-based AccuWeather.com, who said it was one of two tropical cyclones that formed from a large unsettled zone of weather in the Indian Ocean this week.

The second storm, Tropical Cyclone Jamala, does not pose a serious risk to landfall, he reported, as it is expected to drift south and then westward over the open Indian Ocean during this time.

Five years ago, a cyclone that hit Burma’s densely-populated Irrawaddy delta region in May 2008 killed at least 138,000 people. Relief efforts for the humanitarian disaster were severely slowed after Cyclone Nargis because Burma’s former military regime initially refused offers of international aid.