Aid organizations were awaiting permission from Myanmar’s military rulers on Wednesday to enter areas of Rakhine state devastated by a deadly cyclone three days ago to deliver food and medicine to communities in urgent need.
Hundreds of people are estimated to have been killed in the impoverished region after Cyclone Mocha tore down houses, communication towers and bridges with winds of up to 210 km/h (130 mph) on Sunday and triggered a storm surge that flooded the state capital of Sittwe.
Residents said that even days after the storm, no help had arrived and volunteers were digging through the rubble to search for the missing.
One resident, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said about 400 people had died and more were at risk of dying “for lack of food, purified water and emergency treatment. There are no… search and rescue teams.”
Rakhine state, with a population of more than three million, is particularly vulnerable and is home to the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, which successive governments in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar have refused to recognize.
About 600,000 Rohingya still live in the state, while more than a million live in sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh, having fled a military crackdown in recent years. Some still make the dangerous journeys by boat to Malaysia and Indonesia.
UN agencies said they were still waiting for the green light from authorities to assess and distribute supplies in the affected areas, some of which were inaccessible due to extensive damage.
5.4 million people were expected to be in the path of the cyclone
“We have established communication channels with all the authorities in Myanmar. We have asked for unrestricted access to affected communities,” said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said their applications were pending approval.
“It is important for humanitarian actors to identify damage, needs and provide immediate life-saving assistance, not least with the monsoon season approaching,” said UNHCR spokesperson Reuben Lim Wende.
State media said on Wednesday that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing visited affected areas in Bagan, another region, and met separately with a UNHCR representative to discuss relief efforts.
It said military vessels and helicopters had airlifted aid to Rakhine and 21 people, including security force personnel carrying out rescue operations, had died as a result of the storm. A spokesman for the junta could not be reached.
About 5.4 million people were expected to be in the path of the storm, most of whom were considered vulnerable.
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