The aftermath of Cyclone Mocha has left a grim scene in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, with reports of bodies piling up among the Rohingya Muslim population. The military government in the country has acknowledged a death toll of over 145, but residents claim that the actual numbers are much higher.
Rohingya, who already face persecution and displacement, reside in overcrowded camps and impoverished villages near the town of Sittwe. Decades of ethnic conflict have plagued the region, with accusations against the Buddhist majority for armed attacks and severe human rights violations targeting the Rohingya.
Cyclone Mocha made landfall near Sittwe on May 14, wreaking havoc with heavy rains and wind speeds reaching 209kph in Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh. As one of the strongest cyclones in a decade, it caused extensive damage in Sittwe, destroying bridges, uprooting trees, and tearing off roofs. The cyclone also washed away thousands of fragile Rohingya shelters.
Amid the destruction, Rohingya residents are grappling with the overwhelming loss of life. Sadak Hussein, a Rohingya resident of DarPain village, described the devastation, saying, “It is like someone dropped a bomb on us from above. Ninety percent of the houses are flattened… We are digging graves with our own hands. I myself have counted more than 400 bodies in the first two days.”
While the military government initially reported seven deaths, the number was later revised to 145, including four soldiers, 24 locals, and 117 individuals referred to as “Bengalis” by the government—a term used to denote Rohingya Muslims. However, Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group and considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, also felt the impact of the cyclone, although no casualties have been reported thus far.
According to eyewitnesses, the scale of destruction is immense, with hundreds of shelters destroyed and numerous lives lost. Aid agencies estimate the death toll to be in the hundreds, with Brad Hazlett, President of Partners Relief and Development, stating that fatalities are likely to rise as relief efforts continue.
Communication failures due to damaged infrastructure, destroyed mobile phone towers, and government restrictions have hampered relief work, making it challenging for aid agencies to access affected areas. UN agencies are still awaiting permission to reach Rakhine and provide assistance to those affected by the cyclone.
The dire situation calls for urgent action to alleviate the suffering of the Rohingya community. Human Rights Watch has called on the military junta to lift all barriers impeding the delivery of life-saving aid. Myanmar’s pro-democracy National Unity Government has accused the junta of failing to relocate Rohingya from vulnerable displacement camps to safer locations, leading to hundreds of deaths.
Aung Kyaw Moe, human rights adviser to the shadow government, labeled the cyclone’s aftermath as a form of genocide without bullets or violence. He emphasized the urgent need for aid, clean water, and food to prevent further suffering and starvation among the affected population.
As the international community responds to this natural disaster, pressure must be exerted on the military junta to end the cycle of violence and provide crucial assistance to the Rohingya community. The world must not fail them once again in their time of need.