Severe and devastating Cyclonic storm Mocha left a trail of damages in northern Rakhine state, including its capital city Sittway, on 14 May. UNOCHA estimated that the number of affected people was over 5.4 million of people on the path of cyclone in Rakhine and northwestern part of Myanmar.

This interview with veteran Rakhine politician U Pe Than is about the challenges of cyclone victims in this western state and his view on assistance of military council.

TLT: Severe cyclone Mocha has caused loss of life and property damages among people in Rakhine state. Are the rescue and relief works of military council effective for them?

U Pe Than: We do not know the extent of military’s aid, its budget, international assistance or the amount of private donors. At present, the cyclone victims have not received effective relief aid. Prices of food and construction maters have soared in the market. Food prices are unaffordable for internationally displaced persons. They have no income and shelter. At this time, the military council should provide humanitarian assistance immediately and transparently. They (authorities) are collecting data for assistance. The effectiveness of relief program for cyclone-affected people is important. We cannot measure it at the moment.

TLT: Could you talk about the present situations of cyclone-affected IDPs?

U Pe Than: Officials are forcing IDPs to return their original place although the latter are reluctant to do so. They  do not feel safe as they villages were burnt down, their houses were destroyed and landmines are planted on their way to farms. They are difficult in their livelihoods. Armed clashes may occur any time, and then they might have to flee to IDP camps again. So, most of the displaced persons refused going back home.  They are lured to return home by cash assistance about 500,000 to 600,000 kyats. Those who remain living at the camp do not get money. Their makeshift huts collapsed, and their bitter experiences might be called ‘double-suffering.’

TLT: Do you think the military council carried out preparedness measures transparently on the cyclone?

U Pe Than: Due to warnings of meteorologists  and international organizations that the cyclone will swept through Sittway in northern Rakhine state, the locals in low-lying land could move to high-land areas ahead of the cyclone. The junta failed to manage relocation of these people, although they just issued warnings. The junta did not arrange relocation, transportation and accommodation for the people. But ULA carried out these effectively. The damages were not very serious in southern Rakhine state, compared to the northern area. Emergency rescue and rehabilitation works are required for Sittway and Rakhine’s northern areas. Both the regime and international community need to carry out these works for immediate recovery. The humanitarian assistance is not sufficient at present.

TLT: What are the major requirements for the cyclone-affected people in Rakhine state?

U Pe Than: Even 50 percent of well-built structures collapsed in the cyclone. So, cyclone-affected people need reconstruction of their houses. Villages at the coastal area were totally damaged by floods. They are now impossible to resume their business. They need shelter and capital. They have lost their fishing nets and paddy grains. They urgently need shelters, foods and medicines. Then, some sorts of assistance are needed from the regime for rehabilitation, including reconstruction of their houses and resuming their businesses such as gardens, farms and livestock. It will take times for full recovery. The regime needs to facilitate humanitarian assistance. So, the first priority is shelters and foods for the cyclone victims.

TLT: Which areas suffered the great loss and which areas will be difficult for rehabilitation in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha?

U Pe Than: The cyclone directly swept through Sittway, Yathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyaktaw, Mrauk-U, Maungdaw and Pauktaw. All the houses were destroyed in some villages of these townships. Priority should be given in these areas to provide assistance by collecting accurate data. The areas of grass roots need to be emphasized. Paddy grains were destroyed. Fishing boats, nets and other livelihood materials were lost.  About 90 percent of their property was destroyed; various sorts of assistance are needed from international organizations, civil society organizations and the military. The success of rehabilitation works remains a question.

 TLT: NUG announced the cyclone Mocha death toll at 435 yesterday. Is it possible to increase the number? I

U Pe Than: We have not confirmed over 400 deaths. This number is possibly higher than actual loss.  I don’t want to discuss the number, although there are certain causalities in the cyclone. The number may be at least two digits. The displaced persons lived in camps for many years. They have no house. The regime failed to carry out preparedness measures for rescue works in advance. Authorities could not organized people to move to high-land areas. So, we estimated the death toll will be high. They should have been allocated in standard villages with the help of international organizations. Then, the damages and losses would not be high significantly.

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