Bangladesh's Rohingya refugees brace for super cyclone Mocha

Storm due to make landfall in Cox's Bazar and Myanmar's Rakhine state by Sunday night

A makeshift raft at Maulovir Para, Cox's Bazar, where the cyclone is expected. AFP
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Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, home to more than a million Rohingya refugees, is on high alert as Cyclone Mocha is expected to hit a coastal town and Myanmar's Rakhine state by Sunday.

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees are on standby for a crisis. State departments and international agencies are organising evacuation and relief operations.

The cyclone is likely to make the landfall on Saturday night or Sunday morning, Mohammad Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, said.

“It may turn into a super cyclone and the wind speed may be 180 to 200kph,” said Mr Rahman. He said people would be moved to higher places as low-lying areas were at greater risk.

Meteorologists in Bangladesh and India said Mocha would have turned into a severe cyclonic storm by Thursday night.

The cyclone is about 510km west-south-west of Port Blair in the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, about 1,210km from Cox’s Bazar and 1,120km from Sittwe in Myanmar.

Dr Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of meteorology in India, told The National the cyclone would affect sea areas in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Port Blair in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“It will be very intense in those areas.”

“We are expecting it to make a landfall with a maximum sustained speed of 165kph on the afternoon of May 14.”

Rohingya volunteers ready for crisis response

Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh's refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, told The National the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) has lined up hundreds of volunteers in each camp to help with emergency response.

“We have deployed 100 volunteers in each camp, who are trained in crisis response during disasters. A disaster management committee headed by camp leaders is also in place to oversee relief operations,” said Mr Rahman.

He said a co-ordination centre had been set up in each of Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and Ukhiya.

“One of the biggest fears is after the cyclone, there will be heavy rainfall for two to three days, leading to landslides and flash floods,” he said.

“We have requested government and international agencies to identify the vulnerable areas and relocate people.”

As there are no special cyclone shelters inside the camps, Mr Rahman said, community centres, hospitals, women and children friendly spaces have been converted into shelters.

“Special teams are already mobilising extra resources to build and repair shelters.”

There are 30 camps in Cox’s Bazar, home to more than 1.2 million Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim minority from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. More than 750,000 were forced to flee a military-led genocide in 2017.

Refugees who spoke to The National said their shelters made of plastic and bamboo would not withstand the cyclone.

“We are expecting the worst,” Mohammed Azmul said.

“I live with my mother and two sisters. Recently, we have had massive fires that destroyed many houses. People are still homeless. And now a cyclone is coming our way.”

Camp leaders said they were going house-to-house, instructing people on what to do when the cyclone hits.

“I am instructing everyone to keep their children inside the shelters along with parents and also to safely pack all their documents that are issued by UNHCR, as well as the papers they brought from Myanmar,” Htway Lwin, a Rohingya community leader, told The National.

“We are also asking families to secure their shelter with ropes. We are also distributing dry food and water in the camp.”

Arjun Jain, UN principal co-ordinator for the Rohingya refugee response at Cox’s Bazar, told The National they are preparing for the possibility of the cyclone “severely affecting the refugee camps and neighbouring communities”.

“Heavy machinery is on standby to clear roads so humanitarian assistance can reach the communities. Mobile health teams are prepared to deploy. Warehouses are ready with everything from high energy biscuits to shelter repair kits,” said Mr Jain.

He said it is a little known fact that Rohingya refugees have been trained to respond to fires and natural disasters.

“They have shown exceptional heroism these past years in rescuing children from floods and mudslides. They are already alerting their community of a possible cyclone. They will be the first to ensure that persons with disabilities, the elderly, the sick and other vulnerable people are supported in the cyclone.”

'Livelihoods will be destroyed'

Climate journalist Rafiqul Montu told The National the cyclone could wipe out livelihoods of many people in coastal Bangladesh, where some are already moving to cities because of climate change.

“If Cyclone Mocha makes a major impact on the coast of Bangladesh, it may affect people's livelihood. Many people may lose their jobs. Many people will be displaced and many of them will move to cities.”

Updated: May 13, 2023, 3:18 PM