Cyclone Mocha reminds the urgency of Myanmar-Bangladesh joint cooperation and close friendship

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by Dr. Arpita Hazarika    15 May 2023

Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbours, and the two countries have had a long-standing relationship dating back generations. The 271-kilometer Bangladesh-Myanmar border is strategically significant for Bangladesh, despite the fact that it is militarized due to Myanmar’s continuous internal strife.

Relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar were formalized on January 13, 1972, when Myanmar, as the sixth state, recognized Bangladesh as an independent entity. However, due to the presence of several unresolved issues such as Rohingya refugees and maritime border demarcation, the scene has changed in an unfavourable way, and ties between these two neighbours have not always been as friendly as envisioned. But this time, they need to come closer on the environmental front. Bangladesh and Myanmar brace for the worst as Cyclone Mocha intensifies

Aid agencies in Bangladesh and Myanmar say they are bracing for disaster and have launched a massive emergency plan as a powerful cyclone barrel toward millions of vulnerable people.

Since forming in the Bay of Bengal early Thursday, tropical Cyclone Mocha has intensified to a the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane, with sustained winds of 259 kilometers per hour (161 mph) and gusts of up to 315 kph (195 mph).

The storm is moving north at 20 kph (12 mph), according to the latest update from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center on Sunday.

Mocha is expected to make landfall Sunday afternoon local time (early Sunday morning ET), likely across Rakhine State in Myanmar and southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, host to the world’s largest refugee camp. Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and St. Martin are identified as the most vulnerable areas by the Meteorological Department. Md. Asadur Rahman, Joint Director of Meteorological Department said, due to the effect of cyclone, the amount of rainfall will increase in Barisal and Chittagong divisions. But when it hits the shore, its cloud mask will be scattered, the impact of which will go to Sylhet, so there is a possibility of heavy rains. Along with this, the risk of landslides will increase. If it rains continuously for more than eight hours, there is a risk of landslides. Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati, Khagrachari and hilly areas of Chittagong may experience landslides.

On the other hand, according to Myanmar meteorological and hydrology department, seven Rakhine townships have been marked with the high risk because of the disaster created by cyclone Mocha. The vulnerable townships include Sittwe, Kyauk Phyu, Maungdaw, Manaung, Rathedaung, Maebon and Pauk Taw.

Developing in the Bay of Bengal the cyclone Mocha is predicted to cross and landfall between Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh and Kyaukphyu of Rakhine State 14 May during evening hours.

Outer bands are already impacting Myanmar and Bangladesh bringing rain and strong winds to the region. Conditions are expected to deteriorate further leading up to landfall, which brings the threats of flooding and landslides.

Disaster response teams and more than 3,000 local volunteers who have been trained in disaster preparedness and first aid have been put on standby in the camps, and a national cyclone early warning system is in place, according to Sanjeev Kafley, Head of Delegation of the IFRC Bangladesh Delegation.

Tropical Cyclone Mocha has intensified to the equivalent of a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.  Kafley said there are 7,500 emergency shelter kits, 4,000 hygiene kits and 2,000 water containers ready to be distributed.

In addition, mobile health teams and dozens of ambulances are ready to respond to refugees and Bangladeshis in need, with specially trained teams on standby to help the elderly, children and the disabled, Arjun Jain, UN Principal Coordinator for the Rohingya Refugee Response in Bangladesh, told CNN.

“We expect this cyclone to have a more severe impact than any other natural disaster they have faced in the past five years,” said Jain. “At this stage, we just don’t know where the cyclone will make landfall and with what intensity. So, we are hoping for the best but are preparing for the worst.”

Evacuations of people in low-lying areas or those with serious medical conditions had begun, he said.  In Myanmar, residents in coastal areas of Rakhine state and Ayeyarwady region have started to evacuate and seek shelter at schools and monasteries.

Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers are on standby and the agency is relocating vulnerable people and raising awareness of the storm in villages and townships, the IFRC’s Kafley said.

The last storm to make landfall with a similar strength was Tropical Cyclone Giri back in October 2010. It made landfall as a high-end Category 4 equivalent storm with maximum winds of 250 kph (155 mph).

Giri caused over 150 fatalities and roughly 70% of the city of Kyaukphyu was destroyed. According to the United Nations, roughly 15,000 homes were destroyed in Rakhine state during the storm.

Myanmar has issued a red alert in many areas of the country due to the fear of heavy storm due to the impact of very strong cyclone Mokha. In addition, millions of people have been evacuated from the country’s coastal Rakhine state to safe shelter.

Cyclone Mokha, which hit on Sunday (May 14), is even predicted to be the strongest to hit Myanmar in more than a decade. This information was reported in two separate reports by China’s state-owned media CGTN and one of Myanmar’s leading media outlets, The Irrawaddy.

According to the report, Myanmar has issued the highest-level red alert due to the threat of heavy storms due to the impact of Cyclone Mokha. The red alert was issued on Saturday. Apart from this, the cyclone which hit on Sunday is also predicted to be the strongest cyclone to hit the Southeast Asian country in more than a decade.

In addition, millions of people in neighboring Bangladesh have been evacuated due to the first major cyclone of the season forming in the Bay of Bengal on the west coast of Myanmar.

Meanwhile, in a separate report, The Irrawaddy reported that millions of residents of Myanmar’s coastal areas have fled their homes due to the threat of Cyclone Mokha. Cyclone Mokha is expected to make landfall near the Rakhine city on Sunday afternoon, with millions of Rakhine residents evacuating their homes, the media said.

The Irrawaddy says Myanmar’s junta has issued a red alert in Rakhine City as well as Kyaukphyu, Maungdu, Rathedaung, Maibon, Pauktao and Munang. Besides, the country’s ruling anti-junta civilian National Unity Government has issued the same warning in these cities and areas.

Arakan Army (AA) spokesperson Khaing Thu Kha said since last Wednesday, they have evacuated about 120,000 Rakhine residents and are providing them with healthcare and food. He called on international organizations to provide assistance to the affected people after the storm, citing the limited capacity of the Arakan Army.

Meanwhile, about 75 percent of Sittue’s residents left their homes before the typhoon hit, said Wai Hin Aung, a resident and writer. The Rakhine city has a population of more than 100,000 and the author helped evacuate people to safety.

The Irrawaddy says an estimated 15,000 people from Sittwe and surrounding villages have taken refuge in the town’s Ar Jate hill monastery. Wai Hin Aung said there was an urgent need for food, medicine and toilet management for the people taking refuge there.

He also told Irrawaddy, “No international organization has contacted us so far.” In addition, about 2,000 villagers from the coastal town of Rathedaung have taken shelter at the monastery and school in Sayati Pine Village, according to volunteer U Ay Aung. “The Arakan Army warned residents to evacuate and people are still entering our villages,” he told The Irrawaddy.

A resident of Pauktao Township said the Arakan Army was using boats to evacuate the elderly and children and distribute food.

However, on the environmental front, the Tatmadaw and Bangladesh military, the authorities of Myanmar and Bangladesh, people from both sides may collaborate to lessen the risk of regional environmental degradation through coordinated disaster management systems, operations, and projects. Cyclone Mocha can affect both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Cyclonic Storm Sitrang was a tropical cyclone that affected India and Bangladesh on October 25, 2022. Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar could work together. Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was the best illustration of it. This natural calamity wreaked havoc on both countries’ coastlines. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh have several opportunities to work in order to lessen the risk of environmental degradation and loss.

Joint initiatives taken by the two concerned authorities; militaries can pave the way to bolster the ties between the two neighbors. Improved ties between the Bangladesh military and Myanmar military can smoothen the ties resolving the long pending issues such as the crisis of displaced persons from Rakhine who are currently living in Bangladesh, maritime dispute, border-related trans-border crimes. Basically, this could pave the way of future collaboration. On the other hand, all states must come together on the environmental front.

Countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are the major victims of climate change with the worst victimization still awaiting, may work together in order to address the issues related to global environmental deterioration. Besides the major problems of poverty and illiteracy, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s vulnerability to environmental deterioration is very alarming. Basically, Tatmadaw and Bangladesh military can work together to mitigate the risk of regional environmental degradation through joint disaster management systems, operations, initiatives. Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was the best example to understand it. Both coastal countries were affected by this natural disaster. There are ample opportunities for both Myanmar and Bangladesh to work together in reducing the risk and loss of environmental degradation.

To reduce the harm brought on by the tragedies common to both nations, Myanmar and Bangladesh should work together more closely in managing and forecasting floods.

We can say that in the midst of the present disasters affecting Bangladesh’s Southern, where people are coping with their suffering and losses, Myanmar residents who live in Rakhine and Ayeyarwady regions are also having similar issues.

Environmentalists fear that climate change could cause additional disasters, especially in Bangladesh, which is heavily populated. The South Asian neighbors have recently witnessed more extreme weather, resulting in significant damage.

Myanmar and Bangladesh must offer joint help in managing the disaster as both nations’ northeastern regions are being devastated by cyclone. Information sharing is the urgent element at this time. Cooperation in this regard is required for serving the common interests.

With Myanmar and Bangladesh bearing the brunt of cyclones regularly as a result of their location in the world’s second-largest river basin, experts in both countries and international arena are emphasizing the importance of taking an “integrated approach” and “regional cooperation” to reduce the enormous economic and human costs.

Whether it be cyclone or tropical disaster, there should be a shared knowledge of the issues. Scientists from both nations, as well as perhaps India, Thailand, Sri Lanka as they are also a part of the Bay of Bengal, should work together to find answers to the issues.

Thus, China must cooperate with India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka also. China can’t remain silent on this issue. However, the deadly cyclone reminds us of the urgency of India-Bangladesh-Myanmar -Thailand-China-Sri Lanka cyclone management cooperation. To more focus, Myanmar-Bangladesh-India cooperation must in this regard.

However, Myanmar’s military should take effective steps to foster the ties. It must understand that Bangladesh is a peace-loving country and friendly neighbors. Bangladesh believes in peaceful coexistence. Thus, engagement with Bangladesh would be beneficial for Myanmar also. Friendship ties between the two neighbouring countries can assure peace, harmony, regional stability, regional greater interest, etc. in the whole regions (South Asia and Southeast Asia)