A Rohingya woman carries her baby next to her destroyed house at Basara camp in Rakhine State's Sittwe Township on May 16, after Cyclone Mocha made landfall. (AFP)

UN urges Myanmar junta to open up to Cyclone Mocha relief


The United Nations on Wednesday called for Myanmar to open up and ensure life-saving aid can get to parts of the country hit by deadly Cyclone Mocha.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, urged the country’s military rulers to let needs assessments go ahead as the Southeast Asian nation reels from the cyclone’s impact.

Mocha brought lashing rain and winds of 195 kilometres per hour to Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh on May 14, collapsing buildings and turning streets into rivers.

“The damage and loss of life was both foreseeable and avoidable – and is clearly linked with the systematic denial of human rights,” Turk told a press conference in Geneva.

“It is imperative that the military lift the blockages on travel, allow for needs assessments to happen, and ensure access to and delivery of life-saving aid and services.”

Myanmar’s junta has given a death toll of 148 people, mostly from the persecuted Rohingya minority in Rakhine State.

“For decades, the authorities in Myanmar have deprived the Rohingya of their rights and freedoms and relentlessly attacked other ethnic groups, eroding their capacity to survive,” Turk said.

Rakhine is home to over half a million Rohingya, about 140,000 of whom live in camps after being displaced by successive waves of sectarian violence with the state’s Rakhine ethnic majority in 2012.

“Displaced communities have subsisted in temporary bamboo structures, some since 2012, with Myanmar’s military repeatedly denying requests of humanitarian agencies to build more sustainable living conditions in areas less prone to flooding,” said Turk.

“I saw this myself on my many trips to Myanmar, especially to the east. They have also consistently prevented the Rohingya from moving freely, including in the days before the cyclone.”

Funding appeal

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the UN launched an appeal for US$333 million in emergency funding for 1.6 million people it said were affected by the cyclone in Myanmar.

The UN’s humanitarian affairs office said it was seeking the funding to help provide shelter, medical facilities, food and clean water ahead of the rainy season.

“We are now in a race against time to provide people with safe shelter in all affected communities and prevent the spread of water-borne disease,” Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Ramanathan Balakrishnan said in a statement.

About $211 million would come from the overall humanitarian aid plan for this year in Myanmar, the statement added, with $122m sought to support new relief efforts for those affected by the cyclone.

Balakrishnan later told reporters the UN was hoping to receive approval soon to distribute relief to communities in Rakhine.

A junta spokesman did not respond to AFP questions about whether UN agencies would be granted access to displacement camps for Rohingya in Rakhine.

In Bangladesh, officials told AFP that no one had died in the cyclone, which passed close to sprawling refugee camps that now house almost one million Rohingya.

A brutal military crackdown in northern Rakhine in 2017 sent over 700,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh, where they joined refugees from previous crises at camps established in Cox’s Bazar District decades ago.

The appeal comes after the UN’s food agency said Monday that lack of funding has forced it to cut food aid for around one million Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh for the second time in three months.

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