Devastation struck Rakhine State once again when Cyclone Mocha made landfall near the capital Sittwe on May 14. The resulting humanitarian crisis created by the natural disaster was placed on top of previous crises caused by man-made disasters continually killing people in Rakhine State or forcing them from their homes into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
Around 700,000 homes in Rakhine State were reportedly damaged by the cyclone. Tarpaulin and zinc sheets have been provided by both the military and the Arakan Army (AA) to local families in areas under their control, according to residents.
But over the last two months, the cost of basic commodities has risen dramatically. “Before the storm, the price of a basket of rice cost from 15-17,000 kyat [$7-8 USD]. Now we have to pay between 27-30,000 kyat [$12-14 USD],” said Aye Khaing, a woman living at a Rakhine IDP camp.
Six months before the cyclone arrived, the military and the AA announced a “humanitarian” ceasefire in November 2022. This allowed farmers to harvest their crops and for critical aid to reach those most in-need living in IDP camps. Since then, the truce has held steady.
This intermittent conflict between the military and the AA has been ongoing since 2015. It has been one of the main factors for the 228,100 IDPs in Rakhine State – 156,560 of which are stateless people without any form of legal documents, according to the U.N.
It is unknown how many IDP camp shelters were destroyed by the cyclone in Rakhine State, but the contamination of water sources with seawater was widespread. Thanks to the quick desalination work of locals, most wells were providing drinking water again right before the arrival of the monsoon season last month.
“Now we can use the ponds. Before the rains, we had to pump out the saltwater first to be able to plow the fields. Most of the fields are being plowed. But we are still facing difficulties in growing rice,“ said Kyaw Tharla, a Ponnagyun Township resident.
The military has stated that it will provide 70,000 baskets of rice seeds to cyclone-impacted communities. But farmers in these areas state that it is not enough. A ban on international humanitarian aid deliveries to Rakhine State began on June 7.
Rakhine State civil society organizations denounced the ban as “a completely irresponsible and inhumane act” by the military. They said that all help and donations are needed on-the-ground. But they are fearful of a return to fighting between the military and the AA when the humanitarian needs of the people are so great.
The military stated that 148 people were killed by Cyclone Mocha. But the AA’s political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA), stated that 164 bodies have been recovered since it made landfall. The National Unity Government (NUG) stated in May that 455 were killed, mostly IDPs.
The U.N. is still awaiting approval from the military regime in Naypyidaw to resume its humanitarian aid deliveries to Rakhine State, which halted June 8. It stated that 1.6 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar. The situation faced by cyclone survivors across Rakhine grows more dire by the day.
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