Bangladesh and Myanmar Flash Update 3, Cyclone Mahasen (13 May 2013)

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 13 May 2013

Tropical Cyclone Mahasen is currently located approximately 1,220 km (660 nautical miles) south of Kolkata, India, and has moved northwestward over the last six hours. The cyclone is expected to slow down over the next 24 hours before re-curving northeastward, and will slowly track northwards for the next 36 hours as the steering ridge remains weak and continues to re-orient itself. It is anticipated to gradually weaken before making landfall near Chittagong, Bangladesh late in the evening of 16 May or early hours of 17 May. Once it hits land, the cyclone will rapidly dissipate.

It is too early to predict the tropical cyclone's strength, intensity or potential level of destruction upon landfall but high winds and rain are expected to also affect Rakhine State in Myanmar. There are additional concerns over the potential impact of the heavy rains on Chin State in Myanmar which could lead to landslides and flooding. The weather in Myanmar has already deteriorated making boat travel difficult for the assessments and evacuations during the preparedness phase.

In Bangladesh, the cyclone signal level has been raised to number 4 (out of 6), which has triggered the convening of cyclone awareness committee meetings at the district level. Key deliverables will be the identification of people living in high risk areas, review of early warning procedures and evacuation plans.

In Dhaka, the Minister of Disaster Management and Relief convened a meeting to examine activation of cyclone committees in the areas likely to be affected. Deputy Commissioners of cyclone prone areas were instructed to report requirements back to the central level. The district commissioner of Chittagong, instructed sub-district officers to start drafting early warning messages. The District Commissioner will hold a coordination meeting with NGOs working in Chittagong to discuss preparedness measures and identify roles and responsibilities for NGOs to support local authorities.

A declaration of a hartal (general strike) on Tuesday 14 May has been announced which will impact on the ability of humanitarian organizations to pre-position relief items in the areas due to be hit by the cyclone as well as hamper overall coordination efforts and meetings at the national and sub-national level.

Preparedness measures are also underway by humanitarian agencies in Bangladesh. The Nutrition Cluster and the local Institute of Public Health and Nutrition are undertaking a mapping exercise to track beneficiaries of nutrition programmes to ensure activities do not stop during the disaster. The Education Cluster has identified cluster focal points in the districts likely to be affected by the cyclone, who will ensure support to the potential launching of a Joint Needs Assessment. International NGOs, CARE and Plan International have pre-positioned relief materials and are sending them to areas where the storm could have an impact. Two teams will arrive in Chittagong where they will coordinate preparedness measures with local partners and other development agencies.

The Logistics Cluster is working on the identification of hard to reach areas which are traditionally inaccessible during heavy floods. More than 150,000 people are reportedly living in these areas which are due to pose an additional challenge to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The Health Cluster has finished a review of stocks in cyclone prone areas, and according to the directorate of health services, there are no gaps in staffing and supplies in these areas.

In Myanmar, the Rakhine State Government has identified relocation sites for all IDP locations and coastal communities and is taking planning forward in accordance with their 3-stage disaster preparedness plan. A matrix with identified locations has been shared by the State authorities with the President's Office and humanitarian agencies, who have provided inputs and technical advice to support implementation of the plan. Humanitarian agencies l met this afternoon with the Chief Minister in Sittwe to clarify points of concern.

Relocation and evacuation has already started for IDPs identified as the most vulnerable. This includes IDPs in Maungdaw, Kyaukphyu and Sittwe areas. Humanitarian agencies have reminded the authorities that keeping families together during the evacuation is essential. Some of the IDPs are reportedly afraid of the security personnel in charge of the relocations in some of the sites. Vulnerable families and individuals should be prioritized. Temporary relocation and evacuation of IDPs to safer locations must not result in forced returns nor further exacerbate vulnerabilities.

For some of the relocation areas it is unclear what type of shelter will be provided by the Government, although the locations are on higher ground and away from areas likely to be flooded. Government departments are coordinating amongst themselves to ensure public buildings are available where possible. The Government's priortity is to move the IDPs into the safest and closest buildings but in some areas dedicated infrastructure is not available and thus the priority is on moving them to higher ground. The Government is looking into the feasibility of using the University in Sittwe as a relocation site. The University is one of the closest public buildings to the IDP camps outside the town of Sittwe. Water and sanitation assessments are ongoing for some of the sites. There are some concerns on the durability of roofing materials during wind storms.

Eight army battalions have reportedly been deployed and are available to support immediate activities. Humanitarian agencies are also working to identify locations which will require security for IDPs once they move.

Organisations working in Maungdaw confirmed that the Government is informing people of the potential threats and relocating communities in most at risk areas. OCHA has deployed two staff in Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State. In other IDP areas, Government ministers and humanitarian agencies are touring the vulnerable camps and informing the camp leaders of the relocation plan. In this regard it is essential that evacuation plans are clearly communicated to all affected communities.

Humanitarian agencies have identified that they will need an easing of bureaucratic constraints such as simplifying travel authorizations during the response phase and will need donor advocacy on this issue.

Another OCHA Flash Update is planned for tomorrow.

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