Fear for the safety of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in the path of the potentially devastating storm.
Thousands of people in Myanmar and Bangladesh are preparing to evacuate ahead of Typhoon Mocha, which is expected to pack winds of 175km per hour (108 mph) when it makes landfall on Sunday.
The cyclone is currently in the Bay of Bengal and is moving north. It is expected to cross the coast between Sittwe in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
Authorities warned of the risk of flooding, landslides and a storm surge of between 2 and 2.7 meters (6.6 feet to 8.9 feet).
“This is the first cyclone to threaten Myanmar this Monsoon season and there are serious concerns about the impact especially on vulnerable and already displaced communities,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ( UNOCHA) in an update on Friday. It noted that more than 230,000 people in Rakhine live in camps for displaced people “located in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to the storm”.
About six million people in areas in the path of the storm – Rakhine and the three northwestern states of Chin, Magway and Sagaing – are already in need of humanitarian assistance, UNOCHA added.
With the information this morning, May 13, 2023, 00:30 AM Myanmar Time, the forecast map of Typhoon Mocha has been updated. It is now available on the dedicated MIMU page along with other resources. https://t.co/GyFPicePZP pic.twitter.com/CJqXmAWjvr
— MIMU (@the_MIMU) May 13, 2023
Myanmar plunged into crisis in February 2021 when the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Clashes between the military and civilian armed groups known as the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) are intensifying in many areas now threatened by the typhoon. People have been evicted from their homes due to aerial bombardment and arson attacks by the military.
The army used similar tactics in Rakhine in 2017 when it drove hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh where they continue to live in large refugee camps.
Those settlements are also vulnerable to Cyclone Mocha and Bangladeshi authorities have said that mosques as well as offices in the camps will be used as storm shelters.
UNOCHA said it had deployed a team to Sittwe ahead of the typhoon, while the International Federation of the Red Cross said it was working with the Myanmar Red Cross to pre-position food and other necessities as well to prepare the rescue and relief equipment.
Military-appointed officials in Rakhine are also preparing for the storm, according to reports by Myanmar’s state-run Global New Light.
In Telegram, meanwhile, the Humanitarian and Development Coordination Office of the United League of Arakan (ULA) said it was working with other organizations to move those at risk to “safe areas”. The ULA, the political wing of the Arakan Army, claims administrative control over about two-thirds of Rakhine state.
In 2008, more than 130,000 people died when Cyclone Nargis devastated the lower Irrawaddy Delta in southern Rakhine. The extent of the devastation was so great, the military government was then forced to call in international aid.
Thant Zaw said he lost several family members in Cyclone Nargis and decided to take shelter in a monastery in Sittwe, the state capital.
“I told my family that we should take shelter in this monastery,” the 42-year-old told AFP news agency.
“I have six children and I can’t lose my family again.”