Disasters & Accidents

Myanmar junta blocks international aid access to cyclone-hit areas

Bangkok, May 18 (EFE).- Myanmar’s military junta continued on Thursday to block access of international humanitarian aid to areas hit by cyclone Mocha making it difficult to ascertain the exact number of victims and the situation on the ground, global organizations and the opposition said.

One of the main areas of concern is the western Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of members of the mainly-Muslim Rohingya minority – not recognized by the authorities and persecuted by the army – have been living in particularly precarious settlements for internally displaced persons for years.

“Unrestricted access to affected communities is required to deliver immediate lifesaving humanitarian assistance. Junta restriction of traveling and access to effected areas is a barbaric act,” the self-proclaimed Government of National Unity (NUG), opposed to the military regime that seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, said on social media.

The regional spokesperson of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Pierre Peron, confirmed to EFE that the authorities continued to maintain restrictions on the entry of international aid on Thursday.

There are “scenes of widespread devastation” in Sittwe and other cities in western Myanmar, where the cyclone made landfall on Sunday, the UN agency said in its latest update.

UN agencies are “ready to start coordinated field missions to gauge the full scope of the humanitarian situation, as soon as access is granted,” it added.

Nonprofit Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told EFE that although geographical and security difficulties already existed before the cyclone, access to the camps for displaced people has worsened after the natural disaster.

“We really need urgent attention on easing access to the affected population,” said the MSF spokesperson, who expressed concern about the lack of drinking water and the health situation after the disaster.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Myanmar announced funds for emergency relief activities.

“It is critical that humanitarian organizations be able to access and serve those communities most in need,” it said in a statement on Twitter.

Cyclone Mocha made landfall on Sunday between the southern coast of Bangladesh and the west of neighboring Myanmar, with sustained winds of more than 150 kilometers per hour.

According to UN’s estimates, some 5.4 million people were in the path of Mocha, the biggest storm to hit the Bay of Bengal in more than a decade.

Preliminary data, and in the absence of verification by the opposition NUG, indicates that the cyclone may have left at least 455 people dead, 431 of them in Rakhine.

The military junta said that army ships and helicopters had transported aid to Rakhine and that security forces were engaged in rescue efforts.

It also put the death toll from the catastrophe at 48. EFE


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