Natural Disasters

Cyclone Mocha largely spares Bangladesh but not Myanmar; detailed damage not known yet

Rohingya refugees around Cox’s Bazar saved; but not those in camps of Sittwe city  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Sunday 14 May 2023
Cyclone Mocha largely spares Bangladesh but not Myanmar; detailed damage not known yet
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Cyclone Mocha, which was barely below the Super Cyclone category according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) before making landfall close to Sittwe township in Myanmar, largely spared the Bangladesh coast and more than one million Rohingya refugees residing in camps around Cox’s Bazar on May 14, 2023.

However, Myanmar has hit hard. The cyclone eye passed close to Sittwe city, including Rohingyas residing in camps within the city, though the scale of the disaster will only be known over the next few days.

The IMD bulletin at 10 pm on May 14 said the system had already weakened to a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm and was now a Severe Cyclonic Storm. It “will become a cyclonic storm during next few hours”, according to IMD.

“We had strong wind, rainfall and inundation but not to the scale we were fearing. Here, the rain and strong wind mostly started after 4.30 pm but has now settled down though the rain is still continuing,” Salim Khan, a Rohingya photographer and worker with a developmental agency, told this reporter at about 8 pm. Khan lives in Kutupalong refugee camp.

Shobbir Ali, another Rohingya migrant living in Balukhali, one of the biggest camps with about 0.5 million people, also said the devastation was less as the cyclone largely skirted Cox’s Bazar and its surroundings.

“It is by God’s grace we survived as the cyclone path skipped us. Despite the efforts of international agencies, local government and non-profits for the last few days; it could have been a massive disaster if the cyclone would have hit us,” a Bangladeshi working with a local non-profit, said

“We do not have any cyclone shelter here and people had to find shelter in whatever places they could - schools, health clinics, NGO offices, mosques and what not. Still, hardly five per cent of people could be accommodated,” said the middle-aged person over phone.

Salim and Shobbir agreed. “Mocha might not have devastated us the way we feared but it has exposed our vulnerability. Next time, a storm might choose to hit us. Who knows?” questioned one of them.

“Mocha’s generation and intensification had a tell-tale expression of climate change piggyback. The poor Rohingyas, both in Bangladesh and Myanmar, hardly contribute anything to carbon emission rise and hence, rising climatic impacts. But their losses and damages are being caused by the cyclone,” a climate change activist told this reporter, demanding that developed countries should immediately start to cut carbon emissions.

According to sources, St Martin Island in Bangladesh, with a 7,500-resident population, was highly affected.

“The island has about 12,000 people. But about 7,500 stayed put. Part of the island was devastated, with dwelling units crushed under the cyclonic impact,” said a senior Bangladeshi journalist.

“It was on expected lines. I told you before that the right side of the landfall, that is the Myanmar side, is likely to be more affected. That is what has happened,” Mrutyunjoy Mohapatra, director-general of IMD, said.

Myanmar hammered



South of the Naf river, Myanmar had to face the worst including the Rohingyas who remain virtually locked in about 17 camps within Sittwe township.

“The cyclone has hit Sittwe township with around 200 km per hour speed as predicted, accompanied with torrential rain which is set to continue as per the Myanmar meteorological department,” a senior official working with an international development agency told this reporter.

“Infrastructure including lamp posts; buildings, especially non-pucca makeshift ones; electrical transformers; cell phone towers; boats in Sittwe and adjoining townships and hundreds of trees have been damaged … people had to take shelter in schools, medical units, monasteries, pagodas and schools,” the official said. The local authority has reported three deaths from the cyclone so far.

The developmental official however explained that the situation in Rohingya camps located within Sittwe has been far worse.

"First, they stay in extremely vulnerable makeshift dwelling units and also under tarpaulin since 2012. They are not allowed to move outside the camp. Hence, you can understand the scale of their problem," said the official.

Titon Mitra, a representative of the UN Development Programme in Myanmar, tweeted: “Mocha has made landfall. Two million people at risk. Damage and losses are expected to be extensive.”

Mitra further added: “We are ready to respond and will need unhindered access to all affected communities.”

The official however stated that he had information till around 1 pm. After that, the telephonic connections got snapped and he did not get any information from his local office.

“The damage should be of extremely high order and the picture will be clearer in a couple of days,” said the person over phone to this reporter.

Local media also reported that streets and basements of the houses in Sittwe’s low-lying areas got flooded. Communication networks, including telephone and internet, almost got disrupted due to Mocha’s impact. Much of the area is cut off from telephone and internet services after high winds damaged cell phone towers.

 According to local sources quoted in media, hardly one per cent of about 0.3 million Sittwe residents got evacuated to other cities. Around 20,000 people have been brought to safe shelters including schools, strong buildings, monasteries and pagodas on upper ground in the city.

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