A Rohingya man repairs his house after cyclone Mocha hit ThetKel Pyin Muslim internally displaced people (IDPs) camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 20 May 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/STRINGER

Myanmar Junta blocks humanitarian access to cyclone-hit areas

Bangkok, May 24 (EFE).- Myanmar’s military junta has continued to block access of international humanitarian organizations to the cyclone-devastated areas of the country, even as the United Nations has issued an appeal for aid worth $333 million to provide life-saving assistance to 1.6 million affected people.

Rohingya woman and a girl stand near their house after cyclone Mocha hit ThetKel Pyin Muslim internally displaced people (IDPs) camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar, 20 May 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/STRINGER

While “vital assistance is already reaching affected communities where access is available,” a more comprehensive aid distribution plan for both western Rakhine and Chin States has been shared with Junta for “approval,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told EFE in a statement Wednesday.

Cyclone Mocha made landfall on May 14 between the southern coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar, killing an unknown number of people that could range from 100 to several hundreds, according to unofficial sources.

The cyclone also left “hundreds of thousands of already vulnerable people without a roof” the UN-Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, had said in a statement on Tuesday.

Balakrishnan said the humanitarian community in Myanmar had called for urgent aid for vulnerable people in the highest impact zone of the cyclone in the western provinces of Rakhine and Chin, central Magway and Sagaing and the northern Kachin state.

“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,” he said.

The Myanmar military regime that seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, is restricting the access of humanitarian workers to the most devastated regions, where people are in dire need of life-saving assistance including shelter, potable water, food and hygiene kits.

One of the main areas of concern, where humanitarian access is blocked, 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 most humanitarian workers travel authorization is required. They are still waiting to gain it” to travel to the most affected regions, Sayar Thein, a spokesperson for the Muslim Students Union told EFE.

Sayar said the military junta “wants aid organizations to cooperate with them and do it under their management if they are going to do relief work in the Rakhine region.”

This was a way for the junta to display its “political influence” in the region, he added.

The junta’s travel restrictions and an almost anarchic political situation due to the ongoing military conflict has made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of victims from Mocha cyclone.

The junta puts the number of those killed by Mocha cyclone at 148, but the self-proclaimed National Unity Government (NUG) – the political opposition to the military administration – claims the cyclone killed at least 400 people.

Myanmar’s previous military regime had imposed similar restrictions on humanitarian organization in 2008, when the country was hit by Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar that killed as many as 138,000 people. EFE