Bangladesh and Myanmar prepare for Tropical Cyclone

14 May 2013

With Tropical Cyclone Mahasen expected to make landfall on 17 May, the UN is concerned about tens of thousands of people who were displaced by inter-communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State and who are now living in camps. Credit: IRIN/Brendan Brady
Coastal communities brace as Tropical Cyclone Mahasen barrels towards Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Governments and aid agencies have activated disaster response mechanisms in Bangladesh and Myanmar ahead of the expected landfall early Friday (17 May) of Tropical Cyclone Mahasen.

"Mahasen could be life threatening for millions of people in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India," warned Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos. "Humanitarian organizations are working with Governments in Bangladesh and Myanmar to help people prepare for the cyclone."

At present Mahasen is expected to hit just north of the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, near the border with Myanmar. While it remains too early to predict what the impact of the cyclone will be, there are fears that it could threaten millions of people in northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) are currently living in temporary shelters.

“This part of the world is regularly hit by major cyclones and so everyone is taking this threat extremely seriously and making sure the right measures are in place to mitigate the impact and place everyone on alert,” said Oliver Lacey-Hall, the head of OCHA’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific.

Bangladesh

The Government of Bangladesh has raised the cyclone signal level to four (on a scale of six). Regular coordination meetings are being held at all levels of government and humanitarian agencies in areas most likely to be affected have started preparedness activities, including pre-positioning emergency supplies.

“Bangladesh is often seen as a global leader in disaster risk reduction because of the work that has been done to build preparedness in disaster prone areas,” said Neal Walker, the Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh.

These measures, which include the training of community volunteers, the establishment of disaster-preparedness drills and the construction of cyclone shelters, have combined to reduce the impact of cyclones on the low-lying, heavily populated and disaster-prone country.

Bangladesh’s culture of preparedness was largely born out of the devastating 1971 Cyclone Bhola that claimed an estimated 400,000 lives. In 2009, when Cyclone Aila struck, volunteers helped evacuate thousands of people from the disaster area, saving countless lives. The death toll from that tragedy was less than 200.

Myanmar

Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos has expressed her sorrow at the apparent death of people who drowned while evacuating ahead of Tropical Storm Mahasen.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of lives of the Myanmar coast during this evacuation,” said Valerie Amos. “It is important for the government to ensure that people can reach safety before Mahasen hits.”

The accident occurred Monday evening (13 May) when one of the seven boats that was carrying people from a flood-prone and exposed camp in Myanmar's Rakhine State hit rocks and capsized. Fifty-eight people remain missing and are feared drowned, according to the government.

In Rakhine, the UN and NGOs have started to implement a Preparedness and Contingency plan that was developed in March of this year. This is supporting the Pre-evacuation Plan the Government has developed in the last few days. Authorities have started the process of evacuating tens of thousands of people who were displaced by inter-communal violence over the past 12 months. They are being moved from camps to safe buildings or shelters.

“We are very concerned about the situation of displaced people in Rakhine State, particularly those in low-lying camps, and we are working urgently with the government to find solutions that are viable, said Mr. Lacey-Hall. “But we are running against time and lives are at risk.”

The Government has identified 39,000 IDPs that are the most vulnerable and are being moved as part of stage one of their evacuation plan. The next stage would see a further 100,000 IDPs moved.

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