Lives in Limbo in Cyclone-Hit Rakhine Where Relief in Short Supply

By NORA 22 May 2023

Over one week after Cyclone Mocha devastated farming and fishing communities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, local residents have yet to receive any proper assistance and are struggling to return to their normal lives.

Cyclone Mocha made landfall in northern Rakhine State on May 14 with winds of up to 120mph, before hitting neighboring Chin State and Sagaing and Magwe regions.

The military regime has said that 145 people were killed in Rakhine alone, but local volunteer groups fear the number will rise as there are still many missing yet to be accounted for.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that Sittwe and Rathedaung townships were hit hardest by the cyclone, with significant damage done to homes and infrastructure.

“Destruction of public infrastructure, as well as disruption to water systems, continues to limit access to clean drinking water in Rakhine, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases especially among the affected population,” said OCHA.

Junta-controlled media reported that aid has arrived in Rakhine and been distributed. The regime has also tasked senior Myanmar military officers to lead the recovery operation in Rakhine.

However, aid has yet to reach Thea Khon Village in Rakhine’s Pauktaw Township, a fishing village where all the houses were destroyed in storm surges triggered by Cyclone Mocha.

A family sit outside their destroyed home in Sittwe. / The Irrawaddy

“I can’t even remember where my house used to be. There is nothing left,” a villager told The Irrawaddy.

The villagers told The Irrawaddy that they desperately need emergency food supplies and drinking water, as their village was completely wiped out by the storm and the water wells flooded by seawater.

A volunteer who went to Thea Khon Village last Friday described the village, which has over 500 households, as being destroyed and in urgent need of aid and drinking water.

Two villagers are still missing, according to locals.

Many villages in Mrauk-U Township, which is famous for its historic sites, also need food and medical aid after they were partially or completely destroyed by Cyclone Mocha.

Despite no reported casualties, the storm caused extensive damage to houses and buildings in the township.

“Many people came to Mrauk-U Town to shelter from the storm in advance. So there were no fatalities in our township,” a volunteer said.

U San Thein, a fisherman from Mo Hin Village in Mrauk-U Township, said his home was blown away by storm winds and that his village is still waiting for aid supplies to arrive.

He said some villagers were now sheltering in Mrauk-U Town as their houses had been completely destroyed. The fisherman said that he and his family have stayed in the village as they can’t afford to move to Mrauk-U Town.

“I bought some plastic sheeting to repair my house as the weather is getting hot again. I fell ill yesterday and we don’t have medicine or enough food. If we don’t receive any help, we will soon be on the brink of starving,” said U San Thein.

Rohingya communities in displacement camps near the Rakhine capital Sittwe are also in urgent need of food and medical aid after the cyclone ripped through the camps.

“Four people share one egg for lunch. We desperately need food and medical supplies,” said a Rohingya man last Thursday.

A spokesperson from the Youth for Youth volunteer team said that they would bring some food supplies on Tuesday for Rohingya in Bayda camp as they had completely run out of rice.

U Thein Shwe, a volunteer in the Rohingya camp, said hygiene is an issue as there are not enough toilets in the camp.

A Rohingya woman stands in her destroyed house at Basara refugee camp in Sittwe on May 16, 2023. / AFP

With sweltering temperatures, shelter is also a huge problem in the storm-hit areas with most houses damaged or destroyed and trees uprooted.

Residents of Thea Chaung Village in Bupin village-tract who lost their homes are staying at the local monastery and community hall and have yet to receive any aid supplies.

The Sayadaw of the Thea Chaung monastery said over 120 houses and a monastery building were destroyed by the cyclone.

A spokesperson for a local volunteer group said that the most vulnerable communities in storm-hit areas haven’t received any relief supplies from international organizations, despite preparing food supplies in advance of the storm.

“They told me that they haven’t received permission [to distribute aid] from the junta yet,” said the spokesperson.

On Sunday, OCHA said that international aid agencies are still waiting for the junta’s approval to begin relief work on the ground.