Three months after cyclone, Myanmar’s Rakhine state sees little aid

RFA Burmese
Three months after cyclone, Myanmar’s Rakhine state sees little aid Workers sort through food at a damaged United Nations World Food Program warehouse in Sittwe, Myanmar, May 17, 2023, in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha.
Sai Aung Main/AFP

About 1.6 million people in Rakhine state have not received sufficient humanitarian aid almost three months after one of the worst cyclones to hit Myanmar in a decade, aid workers and local residents told Radio Free Asia.

Additionally, the rehabilitation process in the country’s westernmost state could be prolonged because of inadequate support from the military junta and the international community, the aid workers said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently announced that it has received only U.S. $24.3 million of the estimated U.S. $333 million needed for relief and rehabilitation projects in cyclone-hit areas. Low-lying Rakhine lies along the cyclone-prone Bay of Bengal.

“There is an enormous gap between the amount needed and the amount provided,” a humanitarian organization official told RFA, a news service affiliated with BenarNews. “They can only fill the very basic needs for the people.”

Cyclone Mocha made landfall on May 14 with sustained winds reaching more than 220 kph (137 mph), killing more than 400 people and leaving widespread destruction. Aid workers said that more than 90% of houses and buildings in northern Rakhine were damaged by the storm. 

In early June, junta officials issued a blanket ban on transportation for aid groups operating in Rakhine. Authorities mandated that all international humanitarian aid, including U.N. assistance, must first be donated through the junta. 

Maung Saw Win, a resident of Rathedaung township – where the cyclone hit hardest – told RFA that the people of his township have yet to receive any substantial aid.

“We haven’t received anything on the ground. We have seen 20 tractors arrive here. But that’s it,” he said. “We are trying to rehabilitate on a self-help basis.”

Other residents of cyclone-hit areas said they received some food, shelter and emergency aid materials from the World Food Program, the Red Cross and other international organizations shortly after the cyclone, but those deliveries have stopped. 

In Bangladesh, the cyclone destroyed more than 2,800 shelters, learning centers, health centers and other infrastructure in Rohingya camps in the sub-districts of Teknaf and Ukhia, according to Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the nation’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner. Teknaf borders Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Dwellings in nearby St. Martin’s, an island in the Bay of Bengal isolated from mainland Bangladesh, suffered a similar fate, according to government officials.

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Members of a rescue team clear fallen trees in Sittwe, Myanmar, after Cyclone Mocha, May 17, 2023. [Sai Aung Main/AFP]

Aid from ASEAN

The junta’s spokesman and attorney general for Rakhine state, Hla Thein, told RFA that the junta has allotted 5 billion kyat ($1.6 million) for Rakhine’s damaged areas, and plans to allot an additional 7 billion kyat ($2.3 million).

“We are also negotiating with international aid organizations to provide aid,” he said. “It is important that the private sector cooperates with the government. Only then can we complete the mission in a short time.”

State-run news organizations have reported that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Korea and Japan have donated food, shelter, medicine and other materials through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management.

According to RFA records, emergency aid valued at $1.64 million has been donated by ASEAN, 40 tons of food, medicine and other materials has come from India, and food, shelter and other aid material valued at more than $1 million has been sent by China.

Additionally, Cambodia donated $300,000, Indonesia has given $500,000 worth of materials, South Korea has sent 500 tons of rice, Japan has sent 20,000 rice bags, Bangladesh has given 120 tons of material and Thailand has sent 20 tons of aid.

Hla Thein said aid from ASEAN and the international community is being delivered right after the material arrives in Myanmar. 

But former lawmaker Aung Thaung Shwe said there is very little being delivered to cyclone victims. Some junta officials have summoned village heads to perfunctorily distribute some rice and paddy seeds, but that hasn’t been enough to meet the demands in the villages.

The junta doesn’t have “effective means” to make the deliveries, Aung Thaung Shwe said.

The junta seized power from a democratically elected government in February 2021 and has been fighting anti-junta People’s Defense Forces and ethnic armed groups ever since.

One Rakhine businessman said it could take up to 15 years to rebuild the communities because of the junta’s unreliability.

“I don’t think the rehabilitation efforts will go smoothly and quickly if we relied on the government’s missions,” Khin Maung Gyi said. “We also see that the capacities of international NGOs and other NGOs have been crippled by the various restrictions.”


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