Arun Devnath and Khine Lin Kyaw
Sun, 14 May 2023 at 3:56 am BST
(Bloomberg) — Bangladesh and Myanmar are evacuating hundreds of thousands of people as Cyclone Mocha is set to make landfall Sunday, potentially causing widespread destruction to one of the most vulnerable areas in the region.
The storm could hit the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh, home to about a million Rohingyas who fled there years ago from neighboring Myanmar. Wind speeds could reach as high as 210 kilometers (130 miles) per hour, and the storm is equivalent to a category 4 hurricane.
The Bangladesh Meteorological Department warned of storm surges, flash floods and landslides in coastal districts. The country has raised the danger signal to 10 (on a scale of 1 to 11) for Cox’s Bazar, and shut seaports and airports in the coastal zone.
The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency, has warned of heavy rain, flooding and landslides potentially affecting “hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people,” including the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and six million people in need of humanitarian assistance in neighboring Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Storms in the region are not unusual at this time of year, but Cyclone Mocha comes at a time of increased attention to extreme weather, after parts of Asia grappled with severe heat in April and May. With climate change and a looming shift in patterns toward El Nino conditions, heat waves and large storms could become more frequent or intense.
The ability of governments to respond to such threats is crucial.
Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 was the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar. More than 140,000 people were killed, and the lives of 2.4 million more were affected.
Myanmar’s civil war has intensified since the military took power in a coup in 2021. The fighting has displaced over a million people, especially the minority Rohingya, whom the UN has alleged are subject to “ethnic cleansing” by the military. The ruling junta has issued an evacuation order to about one million people in seven townships in Rakhine State, although many more in other parts of the country are also likely to be affected.
The country’s meteorological office has raised its alert warning for the cyclone to red, the highest level, and advised those living in western coastal areas to evacuate as soon as possible. The junta has also banned fishing and entry to beaches and coastal areas across the whole nation.
The storm has caused widespread power outages in both countries. Most of Myanmar’s 330 townships, including the capital of Naypyidaw and commercial capital Yangon, have no access to electricity.
In Bangladesh, fuel supply to the grid shrank after the government suspended the flow of liquefied natural gas from two floating terminals. Gas for cooking was down and out for hours in the capital of Dhaka.
Bangladesh’s energy ministry called for patience and said power supply will be restored when weather conditions improve. The government has also asked farmers to harvest their rice crop immediately, and suspended public exams for two million students scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
Other economic activities affected by Cyclone Mocha:
- Bangladesh’s key seaport in Chattogram was closed on Friday night, according to Omar Faruk, secretary of the port authority
- South-bound river transport in Bangladesh has been suspended, said Saiful Islam, a director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority
- Domestic flights to Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been suspended since Friday, and bus lines have canceled their routes there
–With assistance from Low De Wei and Tassia Sipahutar.