Climate Change

Mocha: Most models predict storm will strike Myanmar. Is the country prepared?

The country’s last major cyclone, Nargis in 2008, claimed over 84,000 lives

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 09 May 2023
Damaged boats in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Photo: Marianne Jago/AusAID via Wikimedia

Cyclone Mocha is expected to strike the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to most models highlighted in the Tropical Cyclone Outlook report released by India Meteorological Department (IMD) on May 7. If the storm does strike Myanmar, will the country, in the throes of political crises, be able to handle it?

Down To Earth (DTE) put the question to a section of climate and political experts. Opinions were divided on the issue.

Myanmar has been in the throes of political instability for most of its existence as an independent country. The last major political upheaval took place on February 1, 2021, when the military toppled the democratically elected government in a coup.

Alongside political instability, the country is now among the most climate-vulnerable globally. According to the World Bank, the southeast Asian country “has seen an increase in intensity and frequency of cyclone/strong winds”.

“In the past (before 2000), cyclones made landfall along Myanmar’s coast once in every three years. Since the turn of the century, cyclones have made landfall along Myanmar’s coastline every year,” an article on the World Bank’s portal notes.

Myanmar Climate Change Strategy (2018-2030) brought out by the United Nations in 2019, also acknowledges this:

Coastal regions are particularly at risk from sea level rise and cyclones, while the lowlands and Central Dry Zone are vulnerable to the impacts of floods and droughts, respectively.

An article by climate-related website noted that “the 1 February coup and the subsequent escalation of violence between state security forces and the anti-junta coalition have already undone Myanmar’s recent development progress in climate adaptation”.

The country’s last major cyclone, Nargis, in 2008, claimed over 84,000 lives. Will Cyclone Mocha or others in the future be as deadly?

“Nargis intensified very quickly before making landfall. So when it did make landfall, it was one of the most severe cyclones ever. We had also issued warnings well in advance but they (the Myanmar authorities) were not well prepared. At present though, I think they have better capabilities. So casualties may not be as high. UN bodies such as the World Meteorological Organization as well as global ones like the Red Cross will also be advising the government to be prepared,” Madhavan Rajeevan, former secretary of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences told DTE.

Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director-general of IMD, said whether Myanmar was well prepared to tackle Mocha could only be answered by its government.

He added that about 20 per cent of cyclones which form annually in the Bay of Bengal make landfall on the Myanmar coast.

“Most cyclones in the Bay indeed head towards the northwest or northern shore. It depends upon atmospheric circulation. We have a concept called steering currents. There are strong winds up to 10-12 kilometres in the upper atmosphere. We also have a concept called sub-tropical ridge. These two determine that most cyclones go towards northwest or north,” Rajeevan said.

Will this conventional cyclonic path change in the future, given the warming planet?

“We know cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are going to intensify. But we are not sure about the track for now,” Rajeevan noted.

Srabani Roychoudhury, Professor in Japanese Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, told DTE that since dictatorial systems do not usually bother about public welfare, she was very circumspect as to whether the Myanmar junta was well-prepared now or in the future.

“But sometimes these events become catalysts in their own right as more people are affected, resulting in increased political instability and aggression. They might augur well with respect to Myanmar having a democratic setup someday,” she added.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.