Cyclone Aid Stalled in Myanmar: ‘I Just Hope We Get Help Before We Die.’
Four days after Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Myanmar, killing hundreds and devastating communities in its path, aid groups seeking to deliver humanitarian assistance remained stymied by the junta on Thursday as survivors faced growing threats of hunger and illness.
Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said relief agencies were ready to deliver food, medicine and other much-needed supplies, but were awaiting the military regime’s approval.
Aid groups fear that the death toll, estimated by some at more than 450, will only rise as victims of the cyclone face food shortages, disease, a lack of clean water and the loss of their homes. Survivors also face the threat of unexploded land mines that may have moved during the flooding. An estimated 5.4 million people in Myanmar were affected by the storm.
Without swift aid, humanitarian experts fear that the number of deaths could climb, as was the case after Cyclone Nargis, the catastrophic 2008 cyclone that struck Myanmar farther to the east and killed more than 135,000. The military government at the time also was criticized for its slow response.
“We have asked for unrestricted access to affected communities,” Mr. Peron said. “To deliver, we will need access to affected people, relaxation of travel authorization requirements and expedited customs clearances for commodities.”
The junta has not publicly addressed its decision to block international aid groups from affected areas where rebels seeking autonomy have long been fighting the military. The junta has said it is sending aid, but most survivors interviewed by The New York Times say they have not received any assistance from the military.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
After sharing power with civilian leaders for a decade, the military seized control in a 2021 coup and is now fighting a bloody civil war with armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy forces.
The cyclone struck in areas where much of the fighting has occurred, including Rakhine State, Chin State and Magway Region. Rescue workers, activists and flood survivors say the military is reluctant to let outsiders into the area because it wants to maintain control of who receives aid.
In Matupi, a town in Chin State, the farmer Salai Khaung Lian, 68, said he fled to higher ground in the forest with his wife and two grandsons on Sunday before the storm hit. The cyclone blew the roof off their home, and now they have no place to go.
“We don’t have shelter, food or drink,” he said by phone. “I just hope we get help before we die.”
On Thursday, the junta reported that 48 people had died in the storm, although rescuers in one devastated area told The Times the number was nearly 10 times that.
Dr. Win Myat Aye, the minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management for the rival National Unity Government, said that at 455 people had died, according to reports he had received.
Most of the dead were Rohingya Muslims who were among those herded into relocation camps more than a decade ago, he said.
“The main reason the Rohingyas are dying in large numbers during the cyclone is that they have to live in a small area with a large population,” he said. “The majority of Rohingya deaths are due to lack of freedom of movement and unfair restrictions on their rights.”
The minister called on the junta to let international humanitarian organizations deliver assistance without restrictions.
“International organizations have announced how they will help,” he said. “But to help the displaced people, they must abide by the junta’s agenda. The military says it will help all the people, but in reality, words and deeds are different.”
One of the hardest hit places was the area around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, where many of the Rohingya camps are located.
One rescue worker there, U Tin Naing, estimated that 95 percent of the homes in the area were damaged or destroyed. At least 400 bodies had been found, he said, and they were buried immediately.
“We are still counting,” he said. “We still can’t total the number of dead because of the poor phone lines and internet connection.”
Khaing Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which has battled the Myanmar military in its bid for autonomy since 2009, said the region was in desperate need of assistance.
“When the storm hit, the food that was collected to help ahead of time was damaged by the rain,” he said. “Shelter, food, drinking water and medicine are urgently needed.”
Soldiers made a show of delivering food Wednesday to Rohingya living in one camp, but people living in several nearby camps said they had received nothing.
In Matupi, about 100 miles north of Sittwe, activists said the ongoing war between resistance fighters and the military would complicate recovery efforts.
“Because it is a war-torn area,” said Salai Mang Hre Lian, program manager for the Chin Human Rights Organization, “we are worried about the risk from military land mines and unexploded bombs exposed by the storm.”
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