After the government restricted access to the damaged areas, including for humanitarian organisations, millions of people who survived one of Myanmar's most powerful cyclones are now battling to reconstruct their lives.
The move has "turned an extreme weather event into a man-made catastrophe," said Human Rights Watch.
On May 14, Cyclone Mocha made landfall, causing destruction and killing hundreds. A month after their homes were damaged, the BBC spoke to families who are struggling with the decreasing amount of relief.
Aye Kyawt Phyu, who resides in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state which was devastated by the storm, claims that there is not enough food or water and finding either has become much more difficult now that the monsoon is in full swing. "All this week, it has rained. Every day is a struggle for us.”
“All of the houses fell as the storm arrived. There is nowhere to remain,” said San San Htay, a local of Sittwe. "I sit in the rain now when it rains. I can't even get to sleep.”
The UN's humanitarian office said that just a small portion of the destroyed dwellings have been repaired. The covert National Unity Government believes that the actual death toll was closer to 500 than the junta's claim of 145 caused by the cyclone.
An ethnic militant group in Rakhine called the Arakan Army said that more than 2,000 communities and 280,000 dwellings had been devastated by the storm. Nearly 3.2 million of the 5.4 million people in Myanmar who were in Cyclone Mocha's path are regarded as "most vulnerable" by the UN.
Aye Kyawt Phyu and San San Htay reside in Rakhine, one of the poorest states in the nation. As of 2019, the World Bank's most recent estimate showed that 78% of its people were living in poverty.
Aye Kyawt Phyu says, "We want the government of Myanmar to permit outside aid." She claims that they received some rice, clean water, and oil in the days right following the hurricane.
Up until June 8, when Myanmar's army rulers, or junta, as they are called, forbade humanitarian organizations operating in the region from using their transportation, aid continued to trickle in but could no longer be delivered.
Officials never gave an explanation for their actions. However, a Rakhine government spokeswoman told local media that they wanted to control how aid was distributed because they felt it had not been done equitably.
He was cited as saying that "NGOs are only interested in helping the Muslim community." This is a reference to the predominantly Rakhine-based Muslim Rohingya population. The Rohingya have been refused citizenship by successive governments in Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist nation, and are viewed as unlawful immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Though many have departed the nation due to persecution, the UN believes that over 500,000 of them remain in northern Rakhine. The spokesperson claimed, "Honestly speaking, the Rakhine community does not receive it, even though these international groups say they are donating to Mocha [victims]."
According to Claire Gibbons of Partners Relief & Development, a non-profit organization that works in Myanmar, "It is certainly our experience that the Myanmar military puts significant barriers... [on our efforts] to help the Rohingya and has actively diminished the human rights of the communities."
The Rohingya community in Rakhine claims that living has been quite challenging since the cyclone.
Additionally, there has been protracted violence between the Rohingya and the Rakhine ethnic group, which is dominated by Buddhists. The speaker, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that "all our houses were destroyed, and some people are living in tents near the sea while others are in their damaged houses." She resides in the coastal community of Dapaing.
Since the cyclone, she said, several locals—including women giving birth—have passed away while travelling to the hospital since it frequently took time to obtain transportation.
The junta has previously suspended assistance. When Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008 and killed more than 100,000 people, they responded similarly.
The army may have opted to do so once more because it preferred to manage the flow of humanitarian aid to the heavily sanctioned nation, according to Ms. Gibbons.
"They also hope to gain assistance, as they did after Cyclone Nargis hit. Some of the aid that was given by other nations ended up on the market, enabling them to profit from it,” she claimed. International NGOs have been urged to lessen what some have referred to as their "overreliance" on the junta in the wake of the most recent ban, which they claim has hampered the global response to the disaster.
Local relief workers advise multinational organizations to collaborate more closely with locals who have more on the ground; some even recommend armed resistance organizations as potential partners.
For instance, the Arakan Army has created its own humanitarian branch in reaction to the hurricane.
In the meantime, those who survived the cyclone are still waiting for assistance.
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