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Myanmar denies access to Mocha-hit areas

Rakhine state govt suspends transportation used by international and local aid groups to help cyclone victims
A Rohingya woman carries her baby next to her destroyed house at Basara refugee camp in Sittwe on May 16, after cyclone Mocha made landfall.

A Rohingya woman carries her baby next to her destroyed house at Basara refugee camp in Sittwe on May 16, after cyclone Mocha made landfall. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 09, 2023 10:30 AM GMT
Updated: June 09, 2023 10:46 AM GMT

International and local aid groups in Myanmar have reportedly been denied access to areas hard hit by cyclone Mocha amid a United Nations warning of impending threats caused by hunger and communicable diseases.

The Rakhine state government on June 8 suspended transportation used by international NGOs and local humanitarian groups to get access and aid to the victims of the May 14 cyclone which caused extensive damage with winds of up to 250kph. 

No further explanation was cited in the suspension letter, signed by Colonel Kyaw Thura, security and border affairs minister of Rakhine state.

The colonel’s move came a day after international and local civil society groups had secured permission from the ruling military to use the transportation, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing aid workers.

“Approval is pending for the transport of supplies from warehouses inside the country and from outside Myanmar,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a June 2 report.

It added that approval is also pending for a two-week distribution and related travel authorization for Rakhine and Chin states.

"The humanitarian access situation in cyclone-hit Rakhine state has deteriorated with existing travel authorizations [TAs] for humanitarian organizations suspended this week pending new, centralized discussions in Nay Pyi Taw," said a report released on June 9 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Powerful Cyclone Mocha made landfall near Sittwe, Rakhine state and uprooted trees, lampposts and destroyed thousands of homes and properties.

The official death toll was put at 145 by the junta, but at least 400 people were killed, said Myanmar's exiled National Unity Government (NuG), with RFA also reporting 400 deaths.

The United Nations has appealed for US$333 million to assist 1.6 million vulnerable people in Rakhine, Chin, Magwe, Sagaing and Kachin regions.

A Church aid worker from Rakhine state admitted that their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance were proving difficult.

However, we recently provided “cash assistance to 1,000 households in Sittwe, Rakhine state’s capital,” the aid worker, who did not wish to be named, told UCA News.

Church officials from Pyay diocese which covers Rakhine state and Paletwa township in Chin state said priests have started visiting cyclone-affected areas to deliver humanitarian assistance.

The UN has said the hard-hit areas in Myanmar are in dire need of help due to the threat of hunger and contagious diseases.

Titon Mitra, the UN Development Program Resident Representative in Myanmar, said, “The international community has to be given widespread access to the affected communities. And that’s a very urgent requirement.”

“Households have completely lost their seed stocks. So we are anticipating, unless there’s an effective response, that food availability and affordability will become huge issues,” Mitra said in a June 2 statement.

The junta earlier this week defended its actions since the storm struck and rebuked media outlets for ‘exaggerating’ the situation and undermining the sovereignty of the country.

“Cyclone Mocha showed how the image of Myanmar painted by unreliable media outlets was nothing but an exaggeration which undermines the sovereignty of Myanmar,” said Than Htwe, Deputy Chief of Mission at Myanmar's embassy in Thailand, in a June 6 opinion piece published in the Bangkok Post, newspaper.

Aid workers fear a repeat of 2008 when the military did not allow them access to the cyclone Nargis-hit areas of the Irrawaddy Delta that claimed more than 130,000 lives.

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