At least 800,000 people in Myanmar need emergency food aid and other assistance after Cyclone Mocha slammed into the conflict-torn country earlier this week, the United Nations said Friday.
Mocha brought lashing rain and winds of up to 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour to Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh on Sunday, with Myanmar’s junta saying 145 people had been killed and media reports suggesting the number was far higher.
The UN’s World Food Programme described “a trail of devastation” across Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a region that is home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who live in displacement camps following decades of ethnic conflict.
The cyclone left “houses flattened, roads cut off by uprooted trees, hospitals and schools destroyed, and telecommunications and power lines severely disrupted,” Anthea Webb, WFP’s deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific, told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Bangkok.
“There are at least 800,000 people in urgent need of emergency food assistance,” she said, adding that “greater needs for food, shelter, water, health and other humanitarian aid are expected to be revealed as we reach more areas.”
And while Bangladesh was spared a direct hit, “nearly half a million Bangladeshis and thousands of Rohingya refugees have lost their homes and assets”, she said.
Webb said that WFP had started its response to Mocha before the storm hit, reaching 28,000 people in Bangladesh near the Myanmar border with advance cash aid to help them prepare.
And, she said, as soon as the worst of the storm passed, the agency had reached thousands of refugees with emergency food assistance, and were working “around the clock” to resume their regular food support.
In Myanmar, WFP had begun emergency food distributions to families in evacuation shelters in Rakhine state and the neighbouring Magway region.
The agency, she said, aimed to reach at least 800,000 people in the worst affected areas of Rakhine, Magway and Chin — almost half of them already displaced by conflict — for an initial three months.
“In both countries, the needs are immense,” Webb said.
She pointed out that funding shortages had forced WFP in March to reduce the value of food vouchers for refugees living in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to just 10 US cents per meal.
“And we will have to cut it again in June unless funding is secured,” she said, adding that WFP urgently needs $56 million until the end of the year to help Rohingya refugees there.
In Myanmar, meanwhile, the UN agency needs $60 million to provide emergency assistance to 2.1 million internally displaced and vulnerable people, including the 800,000 hit by Mocha, she said.
“The cyclone has made a bad situation much worse for millions of people already struggling to cope in extremely precarious conditions.”
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