Cyclone Victims in Myanmar’s Rakhine Struggle Amid Lack of Aid, Soaring Prices

By The Irrawaddy 17 May 2023

Cyclone-hit Rakhine residents are struggling to repair their homes amid surging commodity prices as humanitarian assistance has yet to arrive from either the country’s ruling regime or international aid agencies after the strongest storm in 16 years hit Myanmar’s western coastal state.

Cyclone Mocha made landfall on Myanmar’s west coast in Rakhine State on Sunday with winds of up to 195 km (120 miles) per hour, before crossing into neighboring Chin State and Sagaing and Magwe regions. As of Wednesday, the death toll had reached 202.

Rakhine is hardest hit with around 90 percent of buildings in the state’s capital Sittwe damaged by the cyclone, according to residents.

On Monday, the Myanmar junta declared 17 townships of Rakhine State to be storm-hit areas.
Residents of those areas said the debris was cleared by local volunteer groups and emergency aid was delivered by local philanthropic organizations. They said no assistance had been received from international organizations or the military junta despite three days having passed since the storm.

A local social welfare group donates water in Done Pite Village in Mandaw Township on Tuesday. / KRN

A volunteer from Mrauk-U Township said villagers near Mrauk-U town weren’t able to repair their houses and were waiting for help from well-wishers. Mrauk-U suffered badly from the cyclone with almost all the houses in the town and nearby villages destroyed on Sunday.

“Neither in the town nor in the villages, no rescue team has come yet,” a Mrauk-U volunteer told The Irrawaddy.

The main challenge facing residents is surging commodity prices. The prices of aluminum roofing sheets and roofing iron have risen five-fold, greatly adding to their problems.

“As for those who are poor, they have to live like this regardless of the situation,” a spokesperson for the Ponnagyun Youth Organization told The Irrawaddy.

Although firefighters and some police helped to clean up debris in the town, the locals were mostly relying on local charity organizations, he said.

“We urgently need drinking water for the villages in Ponnagyun because all the wells have been destroyed by the sea water,” he told The Irrawaddy, referring to the storm surges caused by the cyclone.

Members of local social organizations in Ponnagyun Town clear debris left by Cyclone Mocha.

He called on the regime and all international organizations to deliver humanitarian aid as soon as possible because both the town and villages in Ponnagyun Township were completely destroyed by the cyclone.

“In the current situation, the government has to be involved as the capacity of local civil society groups is limited,” he told The Irrawaddy.

On Tuesday, regime-controlled media aired footage of aid supplies for Rakhine being loaded onto a ship in the commercial hub Yangon.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its flash update on Tuesday that “Rapid needs assessments (RNAs) and some preliminary distributions will start once approval is granted in six priority townships in Rakhine,” meaning they are still waiting for the regime’s approval to provide assistance.

A resident of Pauktaw Township said all the villages in the township were severely damaged by the storm although Pauktaw Town fared less badly.

“We need water and food. Both vegetable crops and lakes have been destroyed by the storm,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Currently, only rich residents can repair their houses while poor people are still living in the ruins of their destroyed homes, he said.

On Monday, the United League of Arakan called for immediate help and assistance from leading countries, Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states and other international actors, urging them to deliver immediate relief and necessities to the affected communities.

Like Rakhine State, townships in Sagaing Region suffered flooding following the cyclone, with rice fields and houses destroyed.

Villages in Pale, Khin-U, Sagaing, Salingyi, Ayadaw and Yinmabin were damaged by flooding on Sunday, according to local information groups.

“Their crops were damaged by the flood. Currently, they need food assistance,” a Pale resident told The Irrawaddy.