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 suffered damage and there was 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.
In August, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths called for expanded humanitarian access and increased funding to assist the 18 million people in need of aid across Myanmar, including those affected by the cyclone.
Humanitarian’s limited access to cyclone-affected people persists. In contexts such as Myanmar, where humanitarian access is a challenge, local communities and organizations play a critical role in disaster response and early recovery. 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.
Each year, between June and October, communities across Myanmar’s Rakhine State experience heavy rains during the monsoon season. High levels of disaster risk combined with the socioeconomic vulnerability of millions, including displaced people, could result in new disasters and increase hardship for people affected by Cyclone Mocha. Heavy monsoon rainfall triggered flooding in Rakhine State and in the Southeast, where more than 80,000 people have been affected since early August.
(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.
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.
- According to the World Bank, the median estimate of total direct damages caused by Cyclone Mocha is $2.24 billion, equivalent to 3.4% of Myanmar’s GDP in 2021.
- In Myanmar, more than 158,000 shelters were reportedly damaged or destroyed across affected states and regions.
- As of July 13, almost 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDP) face difficult living conditions and urgently need critical and lifesaving assistance.
- Rapid analysis of 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, reports suggested that shelters, water points, latrines, culverts, bridges and other key community infrastructure were 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 following the disaster: “It really is a nightmare scenario for this cyclone to hit areas with such deep pre-existing needs.”
Human Rights Watch said in the aftermath: “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. Records documenting the deaths and injuries from the attack that were provided exclusively to The Washington Post by a network of local medics show that at least 25 children were among the dead. The Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma documented 13 civilian deaths due to the military’s artillery attacks and 70 civilian arrests within the week of Sept. 8-14 alone.
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 ongoing conflict has led to food shocks and decreased agricultural production, subsequently affecting livelihoods and overall food security. A report published by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) included Myanmar in a list of 18 “hunger hotspots” where critical food insecurity is projected to intensify. In 2022, Myanmar was one of the three largest food crises in the world, according to the Food Security Information Network, and the cyclone has exacerbated the situation.
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 were badly hit, with the cyclone causing loss of assets crucial for livelihoods and “posing a longer-term threat to food security.”
The agricultural and fishery sectors in Rakhine State and the Northwest have suffered enormous losses, with more than half of production capability lost in Sittwe, impacting essential assets for livelihoods.
In their July 15 Myanmar Humanitarian Update, UNOCHA reported, “Income losses, coupled with high inflation, have worsened food insecurity. Among households that have experienced significant income reductions, the level of food insecurity is particularly severe.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), “The current food insecurity situation is critical due to reduced agricultural production in 2022, intensified conflict, record high food prices and the devastating effects of Cyclone Mocha.”
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 were severely damaged, and shelter debris is posing additional risks to the IDPs. In Kachin alone, cluster partners identified that more than 15,500 IDPs in Shwegu, Mohnyin, Hpakant and Waingmaw townships need shelter and non-food items assistance.
The World Bank’s Global Rapid Post-Disaster Damage Estimation (GRADE) report found the median estimate of total direct damages caused by Cyclone Mocha is $2.24 billion, equivalent to 3.4% of Myanmar’s GDP in 2021. Damages to housing and non-residential buildings account for over 49% and 18% of the total, respectively. The GRADE report said that in Rakhine State alone, more than 200,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. The hardest-hit townships were Sittwe and Rathedaung.
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 security and livelihoods
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 were badly affected, leading to losses of assets essential for livelihoods. Therefore, livelihood support, particularly in rural areas, is needed, including support for planting crops.
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.
In their Myanmar Humanitarian Update released on Sept. 8, UNOCHA said that if financial support is not urgently received to support ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and micronutrients, around 7,500 children could die from malnutrition this year. In Rakhine State, an area affected by the cyclone, there is an urgent need for the replenishment of 1,600 cartons of RUTF for the proper treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition.
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 who sustained injuries and need medical care will likely have a harder time finding it.
In their Myanmar Humanitarian Update released on Sept. 8, UNOCHA said, “In Rakhine, there is a need to renovate Cyclone-affected clinics in nine areas (six in IDP camps and three in villages) in Sittwe township.”
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. By September, there was evidence of humanitarians using cash assistance in cyclone-affected areas.
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.
According to UNOCHA, as of Sept. 8, “Gender-Based Violence (GBV) partners reported that there has been an increasing need for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), including for psychological trauma and distress, as well as domestic violence and family disputes, in the aftermath of the Cyclone Mocha and amid the conflict in the Northwest.”
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.”
The affected areas are populated by IDPs and refugees who were already living in precarious situations. Support for and shelter materials for repairs and rebuilding are needed.
As of September 2023, shelter assistance remains a primary concern in Rakhine State, with more than 72,000 Rohingya and Kaman IDPs in camps being in need of shelter reconstruction and thousands more Rohingya, Rakhine and Kaman IDPs living in makeshift shelters in need of shelter assistance.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
In Rakhine, cluster analysis from May found that 58% of 196 displacement sites lacked sufficient water, 57% were without appropriate sanitation and 72% experienced hygiene gaps at that time. More than 22,000 latrines were damaged in 646 sites, and 86% of affected populations lacked appropriate hygiene supplies.
As the rainy season continues, vector control agents and mosquito nets are needed in displacement sites and for communities across Rakhine State as diseases such as dengue are becoming more prevalent.
In September 2023, UNOCHA said that in Rakhine State, some WASH partners continued to face limited access to respond where needed and heavy rains had disrupted activities.
Our Global Recovery Fund provides support for cyclone-affected communities. Grants will be focused on supporting marginalized communities in the recovery phase.
(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.
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.
The combined $886.7 million Humanitarian Response Plan and Cyclone Mocha Flash Appeals were critically underfunded as of Sept. 18, with donors providing only 26.6% of the required funding. And the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis was 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), provided 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
CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.
Hurricanes, Typhoons and Cyclones
Hurricanes, also called typhoons or cyclones, bring a triple threat: high winds, floods and possible tornadoes. But there’s another “triple” in play: they’re getting stronger, affecting larger stretches of coastline and more Americans are moving into hurricane-prone areas.
Disasters affect millions of people and cause billions of dollars in damage globally each year. To help understand and manage disasters, practitioners, academics and government agencies frame disasters in phases.