Myanmar: Relocations must continue ahead of Cyclone Mahasen, urges UN

15 May, 2013
The UN has called for the urgent relocation of all communities living in the path of Cyclone Mahasen in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Credit: IRIN/Brendan Brady
The UN has called for the urgent relocation of all communities living in the path of Cyclone Mahasen in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Credit: IRIN/Brendan Brady

As the people and Government of Myanmar brace themselves for Cyclone Mahasen, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Mr. Ashok Nigam, has called for the prompt relocation of everyone who will be affected.

“People who will be severely affected by the cyclone need to be urgently supported to move to safer areas,” Mr. Nigam told a press conference in Yangon.

Earlier today (15 May), the Rakhine State Government reported that more than 35,500 people in Rakhine State have been relocated, including people who are living in camps. Tens of thousands of people in Rakhine State were displaced during inter-communal violence in 2012. Rakhine is the part of Myanmar expected to bear the brunt of Mahasen when it makes landfall later this week.

Barbara Manzi, the head of OCHA in Myanmar, has been visiting camps in and around the state capital of Sittwe. She says that humanitarian agencies have been supporting authorities to get people to higher or safer ground.

“We are assisting the relocation in some areas by working with the communities and the State Government to move vulnerable people to safer ground quickly, based on the principles of voluntariness and safety,” she said.

Humanitarian organizations have pre-positioned emergency supplies and mobilized more relief workers in preparation for the cyclone. They are providing people with vital information about the cyclone and helping people understand the urgent need to move to safer places. They stand ready to provide more assistance as required.

Community reluctance

Some communities have resisted efforts to relocate them, according to Government officials and aid workers in Rakhine. This appears to have been due to a lack of understanding and fear that they will not be allowed to return to their current locations after the storm.

Both in Sittwe and in Yangon, the Myanmar authorities have called on communities to set differences aside and to come together in the face of the oncoming humanitarian crisis. UN agencies and NGO partners have stressed the importance of ensuring safety and the protection of people at risk.

“We (the humanitarian community) have been and will continue to work in close coordination with the Government both in preparing for its cyclone and in its aftermath,” said Humanitarian Coordinator, Ashok Nigam.

Bangladesh: preparations in full swing

Tropical Cyclone Mahasen is expected to make landfall within the next 24 to 36 hours. At present it is predicted to hit the coast of Bangladesh near the city of Chittagong, close to the border with Myanmar.

The Government estimates that about 4.1 million people are living in at-risk areas in and around Chittagong and the coastal area of Cox’s Bazaar. The Government has ordered the evacuation of about 1 million people from 15 coastal districts. More than 1,400 cyclone-proof buildings are on standby in the area to receive people.

Humanitarian agencies are finalizing their response plans. The World Food Programme (WFP) say they have pre-positioned close to 130 metric tons of high-energy biscuits in hard-to-reach areas including on islands off the coast, and an additional 650 metric tons of biscuits are being moved in the coming days.