Bangladesh & Myanmar Tropical Cyclone Mahasen OCHA Flash Update 2, 12 May 2013

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 12 May 2013

A Red Storm Alert remains in effect for Tropical Cyclone Mahasen which is currently moving across the Indian Ocean towards Bangladesh and Myanmar. The storm is expected to reach land on Thursday (16 May). In its current path the storm is expected to hit just south of Chittagong, Bangladesh but could, depending upon its final trajectory, bring life threatening conditions for millions of people in northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

In the past week, parts of northeast India and Bangladesh have received 6 to 12 inches of rainfall so additional heavy rainfall from a tropical cyclone would likely produce widespread flooding and possible mudslides. Myanmar's Meteorology and Hydrology Department has warned of heavy rain in the central region, especially Magway, Sagaing and Mandalay with possible danger of landslides and raging waters when the cyclone passes through Rakhine coastal areas. There is concern for all coastal communities in Rakhine State and in particular the 140,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) that are living in temporary or makeshift camps. Many of camps are located in low lying coastal areas susceptible to tidal surge.

In Bangladesh, the cyclone alert signal remains at level 3 (out of 6). The Department of Disaster Management has initiated preparation in five areas: vulnerability and risk analysis with regular monitoring of cyclone trajectory, pre-positioning of emergency relief items, information management, local level preparedness and resource mobilization. At the district level, members of the disaster management committees have been receiving regular updates from the weather department, and the cyclone preparedness committee is set to meet to ensure communities living in risky areas are evacuated on time.

Humanitarian agencies in Bangladesh are revising their contingency plans for all 13 districts in the cyclone belt. The health and food security clusters have started pre-positioning stocks in the most vulnerable areas. IFRC and CARE International are planning to pre-position emergency supplies in Chittagong. The health cluster will hold a coordination meeting on May 13.

In Myanmar, United Nations Agencies met with the Rakhine State Government today to discuss the preparedness and relocation plan for the State. The State Government has activated its Disaster Reduction Plan which includes relocation and evacuation plans. It is currently consolidating inputs from all district and township administrators. The plan has three stages that will be put into action depending on wind strength. Stage 1 focuses on Sittwe-based IDPs who are gauged as vulnerable should winds exceed between 40 and 50 MPH. Stage 2 is activated for all IDPs in the State if winds are forecast to be over 50 MPH and stage 3 covers evacuation measures for the entire State. Currently the plan is at Stage 1, focusing on coastal IDPs in the most vulnerable locations and living in poor shelter.

In the State capital Sittwe, the Government has identified 11 areas where all vulnerable IDPs currently living in makeshift tents could move. It has also identified two areas where there are longhouses that could accommodate 8,000 IDPs. The authorities have stated that public buildings and monasteries will also be utilized but these options are limited. Five camps with Rakhine IDPs will move into monasteries. People who have moved into the IDP camps but have houses in their villages of origin have been asked to return home. Should Stage 2 of the Disaster Reduction Plan be activated the Government plans to move all Muslim IDPs in Sittwe to the town’s golf club which is on higher land. The Government says it will release its plans for areas outside Sittwe on 13 May. All IDPs have been informed of the storm alert, and alerts are being issued on the radio in Rakhine and Myanmar languages.

In Northern Rakhine State, the authorities issued a storm alert to all communities on the 11 May in three languages: Myanmar, Rakhine and Bengali. Relocation sites have been identified and people living in high risk coastal areas in Nga Khu Ya and Ah Ngu Maw will be relocated on 13 May. The military and NaSaKa will provide security and transportation. Today, both civil and military officers made field visits to southern and northern parts of Maungdaw town. People living in Maungdaw south will be relocated to safe locations in the May Yu mountain range.

Humanitarian agencies are also implementing preparedness measures according to the rainy season preparedness plan that was developed in March and includes contingencies for events such as this. Agencies are prepositioning stocks and once the Government plan is finalised will be able to support its implementation, as well as monitor relocation sites. Government requests to date for assistance are for primary care medical assistance, food, drinking water and water purification tablets. Agencies are concerned for the IDPs living in Pauktaw, a rural coastal area. The Pauktaw camps housing 17,000 IDPs are particularly vulnerable as they have little protection from rain, high winds or storm surge. The camps are on rice fields that can easily flood. Safe locations for these IDPs must be found as a matter of priority. This requirement has been clearly communicated to the State authorities by humanitarian partners.

It is unclear if or when the airport in Sittwe may be closed if the storm approaches. As a precaution some agencies have deployed staff to Sittwe from other areas of Myanmar. A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team remains on standby.

The Humanitarian Country Teams in both Bangladesh and Myanmar are closely monitoring the situation and OCHA expects to issue another Flash Update tomorrow.

For more information contact

Kirsten Mildren, Regional Public Information Officer, Asia Pacific, mildren@un.org,

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.