Cyclone aid halted in Myanmar: ‘I hope we get help before I die.’

Four days after Cyclone Mocha slammed into Myanmar, killing hundreds more devastating communities along its path, aid groups seeking to deliver humanitarian aid were shunned by the junta on Thursday as survivors faced hunger and disease. Faced with increasing threats of

Pierre Perron, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said relief agencies were ready to deliver food, medicine and other essential supplies, but were awaiting approval from the military regime.

Aid groups fear that the death toll is expected to exceed 450, as victims of the cyclone alone will face food shortages, disease, lack of clean water and the loss of their homes. Survivors also face the danger of unexploded landmines that may move during flooding. An estimated 5.4 million people were affected in Myanmar by the storm.

Without rapid aid, humanitarian experts fear the death toll could rise, as happened after Cyclone Nargis, the devastating 2008 cyclone that struck Myanmar in the east and killed more than 135,000. The military government of the time was also criticized for its slow response.

“We have asked for unrestricted access to the affected communities,” Mr Perron said. “To deliver, we will need access to affected people, relaxation of travel authorization requirements and expedited customs clearance for goods.”

The junta has not publicly addressed its decision to block international aid groups from the affected areas, where autonomy-seeking rebels have long been fighting the army. The junta has said it is sending aid, but most survivors interviewed by The New York Times say they have received no aid from the military.

A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.

After sharing power with civilian leaders for a decade, the army seized control in a 2021 coup and is now waging a bloody civil war with armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy forces.

The cyclone struck areas that have seen much fighting, including Rakhine State, Chin State and the Magway region. Rescue workers, activists and flood survivors say the army is reluctant to let outsiders into the area because it wants to maintain control over who receives aid.

In Matupi, a town in Chin state, Salai Khaung Lian, a 68-year-old farmer, said he fled to higher ground in the forest with his wife and two grandsons before the storm hit on Sunday. The cyclone blew off the roof of their house, and now they have nowhere to go.

“We don’t have shelter, food or drink,” he said by phone. “I hope we get help before I die.”

On Thursday, the junta reported that 48 people had died in the storm, although rescuers in a devastated area told The Times that number was about 10 times that.

Dr. Win Myat Aye, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management of the rival National Unity Government, said that according to reports received, 455 people had died.

He said most of the dead were Rohingya Muslims, among those taken to resettlement camps more than a decade ago.

“The main reason why a large number of Rohingyas died during the cyclone is that they have to live in a small area with a large population,” he said. “Most Rohingya deaths are due to lack of freedom of movement and unjustified restrictions on their rights.”

The minister called on the junta to provide aid to international humanitarian organizations without any restrictions.

“International organizations have announced how they will help,” he said. “But in order to help displaced people, they must follow the agenda of the junta. The army says it will help all people, but in reality words and deeds are different.

One of the most affected was the area around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, where several Rohingya camps are located.

U Tin Naing, a rescue worker there, estimated that 95 percent of homes in the area were damaged or destroyed. He said at least 400 bodies were found and buried immediately.

“We’re still counting,” he said. “We still can’t tell the total number of dead because of bad phone lines and internet connection.”

Khing Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which has been battling the Myanmar military in its bid for autonomy since 2009, said the region was in dire need of aid.

“When the storm hit, the food that had been collected ahead of time to help was spoiled by the rain,” he said. “Shelter, food, drinking water and medicine are urgently needed.”

Soldiers pretended to deliver food to Rohingya living in one camp on Wednesday, but residents of several nearby camps said they received nothing.

In Matupi, about 100 miles north of Sittwe, activists said ongoing fighting between resistance fighters and the army would complicate recovery efforts.

“Since this is a war-torn area, we are concerned about the risk of military land mines and unexploded bombs exposed by the storm,” said Salai Mang Hare Lian, program manager for the Chin Human Rights Organization.

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