Extremely severe Cyclone Mocha made landfall on May 14 between Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu township and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, with wind gusts over 134 miles per hour, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic.
Mocha was one of the strongest storms ever recorded in Myanmar. Storm surge was estimated at 9-11 feet, and low-lying areas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and the neighboring southeast Bangladesh coast were inundated. Myanmar received the brunt of the storm’s impact.
The multisectoral Flash Appeal for Myanmar says heavy rainfall, storm surge and strong winds caused widespread damage across five states and regions – Rakhine, Chin, Sagaing, Magway and Kachin. Almost all buildings in Rakhine State’s Sittwe and Rathedaung have suffered damage and there is significant damage to public infrastructure in affected areas.
The Flash Appeal requests $333 million to provide humanitarian assistance to 1.6 million people. All cyclone-affected areas in Myanmar were already identified as having acute humanitarian needs and the disaster will deepen those needs for hundreds of thousands.
As with most disasters, communities themselves began responding immediately and have been clearing debris. Civil society organizations and religious networks in Myanmar are working to support affected communities. In contexts such as Myanmar’s where humanitarian access is a challenge, local communities and organizations play a critical role in disaster response and early recovery.
In their Myanmar Cyclone Mocha Situation Report on May 25, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said, “Aid organizations have been delivering assistance where they have stocks and approval, but more supplies, wider access and increased funding are urgently needed to deliver an operation at-scale and meet needs across all communities.”Myanmar’s military junta is preventing humanitarian access to some cyclone-affected areas of Rakhine State. Travel within Rakhine State is restricted except for Sittwe, the state capital.
In their June 1 Myanmar Cyclone Mocha Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “The swift approval of transport and importation requests, a detailed two-week distribution plan, and further travel authorizations (TAs) for the cyclone response are imperative to meet immediate shelter needs and prevent waterborne disease outbreaks.”
Myanmar authorities have a long history of impeding access to aid. After a bloody military campaign that forced more than 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh in 2017, authorities denied humanitarians access to people in need, mainly Rohingya. The current travel restrictions are affecting the ability to conduct needs assessments in addition to the delivery of aid.
Some humanitarian actors have provided initial support to affected communities in Rakhine where they had pre-existing approvals and operations. Known critical needs in Myanmar include fuel for essential public services, clean water, shelter, food and medical supplies.
(Photo: The aftermath of Cyclone Mocha in Bangladesh, May 16, 2023. Source: U.S. Embassy in Dhaka via Twitter)
Preparedness efforts in advance of the cyclone’s landfall were critical to limiting the loss of life, particularly in Bangladesh. In Cox’s Bazar, humanitarian agencies and residents worked to strengthen camp infrastructure, communicate about the impending storm, and pre-position staff and supplies. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from low-lying areas in both countries. Bangladesh is a leader in effective, community-based disaster preparedness.
A Rohingya activist told the BBC that early warning announcements made by Myanmar’s military junta in the camps were “just for show” since there was no logistical support provided and the Rohingya were not allowed to leave the camps.
The cyclone hit areas where severe humanitarian needs already existed. Myanmar is experiencing a complex humanitarian emergency due to ongoing fighting between Myanmar’s military and resistance militias and ethnic armed groups. The country’s military is increasingly targeting civilians.
Prior to the cyclone, around 1.8 million people were internally displaced, and Myanmar’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) was less than 10% funded. The 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis is only 16% funded as of May 2023.
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, May 22
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, May 15
- Myanmar’s military junta has said the cyclone resulted in the deaths of at least 145 people, including 117 from the Rohingya minority. However, this figure is feared to be much higher. There were no reports of casualties in Bangladesh.
- An estimated 7.9 million people in Myanmar live in areas that experienced strong winds and of these, 3.4 million faced destructive winds of more than 74 miles per hour, placing them at high risk considering pre-existing vulnerabilities.
- On May 15, the Rakhine State de facto authorities declared all 17 townships there to have been affected by the cyclone.
- More than one million of Myanmar’s internally displaced people (IDP) are in the four states most affected by the cyclone: Rakhine State, Magway Region, Chin State and Sagaing Region.
- A rapid analysis from Cyclone Mocha’s worst-hit areas in Myanmar found that 60% of the landmine incidents reported in the first quarter of 2023 were in areas that have now been affected by the cyclone.
- In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, early reports suggest that shelters, water points, latrines, culverts, bridges and other key community infrastructure have been damaged. Bangladesh has not seen the same level of destruction as Myanmar.
Complex humanitarian emergency worsened
Myanmar’s complex humanitarian emergency (CHE) was already categorized as a Level 1 CHE by CDP before Cyclone Mocha. Disasters often exacerbate pre-existing inequities and vulnerabilities within communities, and we are seeing this unfold in Myanmar.
Ramanathan Balakrishnan, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, said: “It really is a nightmare scenario for this cyclone to hit areas with such deep pre-existing needs.”
Human Rights Watch said following the cyclone “the resulting living conditions are, by design, squalid, contributing to a growing tally of preventable deaths and annual threats from extreme weather.”
According to ACLED’s Conflict Severity Index, in 2022, Myanmar experienced the third most intense level of violence after Ukraine and Syria. The country’s conflict is complex and involves hundreds of non-state armed groups fighting against the military junta and joining other ethnic-based rebel organizations that have been active for decades.
In the two years since Myanmar’s military seized power, declaring fraud in the general election won by the National League for Democracy, the fighting has significantly increased humanitarian needs and attacks on civilians persist. An Assistance Association for Political Prisoners report said Myanmar’s military killed 157 children in 2022. An April 11 attack by Myanmar’s junta military on a village celebration in the central Sagaing region left at least 186 villagers dead, including children.
Attacks on civilians have continued despite the cyclone’s landfall. According to their May 16 report, locals that the BBC spoke to “estimate that some 15,000 residents from the Kani and Khin Oo townships have been affected by military attacks in the last two days.”
In April 2023, The New Humanitarian reported on the destruction of health facilities, which reduces people’s access to healthcare.
According to Myanmar’s 2023 HRP, which lays out the shared vision of how to respond to the assessed and expressed needs of the affected population, one in three, or 17.6 million people, are in humanitarian need, an increase of one million people since the start of 2021.
The Rohingya people, a stateless ethnic group, have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Violent attacks led hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in 2017. Hundreds have fled by boat from desperate conditions in Myanmar and camps in Bangladesh. In late March, more than 180 Rohingya Muslims landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Last year was the deadliest for Rohingya at sea for years.
The Myanmar Flash Appeal says, “Cyclone Mocha has structurally undermined food security by inducing losses of existing food stocks, agriculture inputs and assets for implementing income-generating activities (e.g., fishing material, small businesses), as well as reducing access to markets and increasing food prices.”
In Myanmar’s Northwest, the agriculture and fishery sectors have been badly hit, with the cyclone causing loss of assets crucial for livelihoods and “posing a longer-term threat to food security.”
The coastal areas in Sittwe in Rakhine State have been heavily impacted, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimating that at least half of all fishing equipment has been destroyed or damaged.
On June 1, the UN said, “aid access is uncertain, disease is spreading, and a major food crisis remains a very real threat.” UN Development Programme Resident Representative in Myanmar, Titon Mitra added the provision of relief itself was “not enough” and that if people are unable to plant food crops within the next few weeks, there could be a “major food crisis” emerging in the coming months.
A recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Food Programme (WFP) included Myanmar in a list of 18 “hunger hotspots” where critical food insecurity is projected to intensify.
Extensive damage was reported in IDP camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. For example, in Kyauktaw IDP camps, some volunteers reported that nearly all the bamboo IDP shelters and tarpaulins were destroyed. Field observations in the Sittwe camps revealed most of the shelters are heavily damaged. In Rakhine State, more than 200 pre-existing displacement sites have been severely damaged and shelter debris are posing additional risks to the IDPs.
In their May 18 situation report, UNOCHA said, “Partners report that in Chin, approximately 1,800 houses, 19 churches, 30 schools, and 5 hospitals were either completely or partially destroyed across Falam, Hakha, Kanpetlet, Matupi, Mindat, Paletwa, Tedim, Thantlang, and Tonzang townships due to the cyclone.”
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, approximately 930,000 Rohingya refugees reside in thirty-three camps. Refugees’ shelters are largely constructed from bamboo poles and tarpaulins, making them highly vulnerable to the impacts of cyclones, flooding and landslides. Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable.
In the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) area of responsibility, 5,155 shelters were moderately or severely damaged across all three camps, of which 144 of those assessed are fully damaged. Rohingya Refugee Response, which coordinates humanitarian support for refugees in Bangladesh, said 5,800 shelters were damaged and 400 destroyed.
Food and nutrition assistance
According to the Myanmar Flash Appeal, “The impact of Cyclone Mocha will deprive more children and pregnant and lactating women of access to timely and lifesaving nutrition treatment and support, contributing to increased morbidity and mortality.”
Targeted food and nutrition assistance to vulnerable populations is needed. Households have completely lost their seed stocks. In Rakhine State and the northwest, the agriculture and fishery sectors are badly affected, leading to losses of assets essential for livelihoods. Therefore, livelihood support, particularly in rural areas, is needed, including support for planting crops.
Improved access is also needed. In northern Rakhine State, 8,000 people in need of food assistance remain out of reach due to a lack of travel authorization.
In Myanmar, even local community service organizations are experiencing heavy scrutiny at checkpoints which is limiting their ability to distribute support such as food.
In March, a lack of funding forced the WFP to cut its food vouchers to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh from $12 to $10 per person per month. On May 26, WFP announced that mere weeks after Cyclone Mocha damaged refugees’ homes, they will suffer further as additional funding shortages have forced WFP to cut food vouchers in Cox’s Bazar to $8, or less than 9 cents per meal.
The health needs in Myanmar have continued to expand and intensify since the 2021 coup. Among the most vulnerable are IDPs and stateless people who are most likely to lack physical access to healthcare and the economic means to pay for it.
UNOCHA reported that health partners said several hospitals were damaged in Rakhine State. With many health facilities affected by the cyclone, people that sustained injuries and need medical care will likely have a harder time finding it. Temporary clinics or shelters for temporary clinics are being considered by humanitarians.
According to the Health Cluster, mobile clinics have begun operating in some of the affected townships in Rakhine State. Mobile clinics are helpful in distributing services and supplies to people residing in areas without access to healthcare.
The Health Cluster says it needs $23.1 million to deliver primary healthcare services and early detection and timely response to epidemic-prone diseases in connection to its cyclone response efforts.
In addition to the physical damage and needs, mental health and psychosocial support are needed for a population affected by years of conflict, displacement and natural hazards.
In-kind and cash assistance
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) recommends cash both as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Providing direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment.
However, depending on the context, in-kind donations may be needed and appropriate. A critical factor in ensuring cash assistance is effective are functioning markets. A market snapshot of Sittwe, Mrauk-U and Ponnagyun in Myanmar’s Rakhine State conducted by Mercy Corps and released on May 22 found that as few as 25% of vendors had returned to Sittwe Market, although activity was growing. Also, Sittwe vendors said essential foods, shelter-related non-food items and electronics were in high-demand and poor-supply.
According to Mercy Corps, in-kind assistance is needed but “cash assistance will prove important as supply chains recover, but implementers should monitor changes in price and availability closely.”
After a disaster, protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring access to their basic rights are immediate priorities. This is particularly important in the context of the current complex humanitarian crisis and the attacks on the Rohingya and civilian populations by Myanmar’s military.
UNOCHA said in their May 25 Myanmar Situation Report, “Explosive ordnance (EO), loss of civil documentation, mental health, overcrowding, and separation of children from caregivers are significant protection issues.”
On June 1, UNOCHA reported, “Accessing affected areas continues to be a persistent challenge in parts of Rakhine and the Northwest” and urgent “financial and human resources” are needed for child protection activities.
Humanitarian agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, have already deployed mobile health teams to affected communities and plan to deliver protection services, including psychological first aid, to women and girls.
ACAPS summarizes the main protection concerns that existed prior to the cyclone that will only be exacerbated by the disaster: “killing and maiming; human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings; the destruction and looting of properties; increased vulnerabilities to gender-based violence; and increased risks and vulnerabilities for children to child labor and child marriage.”
Myanmar is believed to be one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. According to the Myanmar Flash Appeal, “More than 60 per cent of the landmine incidents reported in the first quarter of 2023 are from areas recently affected by Cyclone Mocha and 90 per cent of the incidents reported were in red zones, where wind speeds of over 120 km/h were recorded.” Mine action partners are already deployed, but with limited capacity.
Although rapid needs assessments are ongoing, Cyclone Mocha likely damaged thousands of shelters in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The affected areas are populated by IDPs and refugees who were already living in precarious situations. Support for evacuation centers and shelter materials for repairs are urgently needed.
According to UNOCHA, shelter is a top priority based on reports that are coming in. The Shelter and Non-Food Item Cluster’s cyclone response remains severely underfunded given the magnitude of needs, with a funding gap of $67.2 million.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
Both the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said that relief items, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene support are urgently needed to tackle the high risk of waterborne diseases.
WHO’s Dr. Edwin Salvador, Regional Emergency Director at the WHO Regional Office for Southeast Asia, said: “As in any flood areas where access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a challenge, there is still a risk of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis and those caused by mosquitoes such as dengue and malaria.”
In the Sittwe camps in Myanmar, the main needs are shelter materials, food and clean water “because of likely contamination, latrines and health services.”
In Magway and Sagaing Regions, WASH support is an urgent need, as communities also lost well tubes and water ponds.
In their May 18 Situation report, UNOCHA said, “Fuel is urgently needed for essential public services, particularly for health and water treatment. Clean water supplies are also getting low.”
Community members are starting to report that children are experiencing diarrhea due to unclean water sources.
Our Global Recovery Fund provides support for cyclone-affected communities. Grants will be focused on supporting marginalized communities in the recovery phase.
If you have questions or need help with making a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.
(Photo: Damage in Myanmar following Cyclone Mocha, May 15, 2023. Source: USAID via Twitter)
If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with disaster recovery, please email Regine A. Webster.
If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.
We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
Philanthropic and government support
CDP has previously supported recovery in Myanmar. For example, CDP awarded $200,000 through its COVID-19 Response Fund to Asia Foundation to create new economic opportunities for vulnerable under/unemployed job-seeking youth and help small and medium businesses maintain business continuity and survive during COVID-19 as well as adapt for a post–COVID world.
The Myanmar Cyclone Mocha Flash Appeal was announced by humanitarian partners on May 23 and requests $333 million to provide humanitarian assistance to 1.6 million people.
In their May 25 Myanmar Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “Immediate funding is crucial to support vulnerable people in the impact zone across Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing, and Kachin. More than one million of those targeted for support are in hardest-hit Rakhine states. Donors are urged to give quickly and generously given the approaching monsoon.”
In May, Myanmar’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) was less than 10% funded. And the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis is only 16% funded as of May 2023.
On May 19, the United Kingdom (U.K.) announced $2.49 million (£2 million) in new humanitarian funding to support vulnerable communities in Myanmar, following the impact of Cyclone Mocha. The U.K. said on May 21 it would provide more than $2.84 million (£2.3 million) in humanitarian support for the Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.
The U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing an initial $450,000 in humanitarian assistance to meet the immediate needs of the people most affected by the cyclone. On May 23, the U.S. said it was providing an additional $17 million in humanitarian assistance in Myanmar through USAID. The U.S. government officially uses Burma in reference to the country of Myanmar.
Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand made a Royal Donation to the people of Myanmar affected by Cyclone Mocha. The Royal Donation included tents, blankets, towels, household medicine and remedies and dried food items. The two countries share a nearly 1,500-mile border. Tens of thousands of refugees from Myanmar are in Thailand, although Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
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