Skip to main content

Expert Opinion

Cyclone in Myanmar uproots violence-displaced in Rakhine State yet again

A perfect storm of risk factors

Disasters often add to a perfect storm of risk factors that leads to escalating displacement figures. IDMC’s annual report on disaster displacement, released this week, highlights that one in four of all countries reporting new disaster displacement in 2012 are also conflict- or violence-affected. These people struggle against physical insecurity and lack of food, and often live in slums in areas highly exposed to floods and storm surges.

Up to 140,000 people displaced by inter-communal violence in 2012 live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Most of them belong to the minority Rohingya and other Muslim communities. They reportedly live in overcrowded camps affected by numerous waterborne diseases, around half of which are in low-lying coastal areas. Conditions are especially dire in makeshift camps, where about15,000 unregistered IDPs have had little or no access to assistance.

With Cyclone Mahasen predicted to make landfall on 16 May on the coast of Bangladesh, already suffering days of torrential rain and the subsequent destruction of homes in its coastal areas, the Government of Myanmar took action from 13 May to evacuate almost 78,000 to move to safer locations. With the help of UN agencies, many are expected to weather the storm; but their camps are likely to be devastated, leaving questions of where the displaced will go next.

The evacuation itself posed risks. On 13 May at least 50 IDPs from a camp in Pauktaw reportedly died at sea when their boat capsized.

Displaced again and again

Cyclones are no news in Myanmar. The population is exposed to a plethora of natural hazards – cyclone, flood, drought, earthquake, tsunami and wild fires. IDMC’s report this week reveals that a round 1.9 million people have been displaced by disasters in the country over the last five years (2008-2012).

Just last year, 86,000 were displaced by floods and a further 25,800 by an earthquake disaster in the country.  In the south-west, people living in the Ayeyarwady delta face particularly high disaster risk. Many coastal communities became even more vulnerable following the devastation brought by the Cyclone Nargis disaster in 2008 along with Cyclone Giri that hit Rakhine state in 2010 that combined displaced over 1.6 million and 100,000 people, respectively.

The urgency to act to improve disaster preparedness and response

Government delegations will meet next week in Geneva at the annual Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a forum for wide exchange on the latest developments with a view to strengthen coordination and implementation of disaster risk reduction. It is critical that among the outputs of the meetings is a vision to improve community-level disaster preparedness and response plans, as well as longer-term disaster risk reduction. This is necessary in all countries, but in particular – and often the lowest hanging fruit in terms of making real improvements quickly and cost-efficiently – those who are the most vulnerable to disasters.

This must include adequate protection and assistance for people already displaced by conflict and violence, as they are among the most exposed and vulnerable.

The situation of the Rohingya and others who had fled the violence in Rakhine State, who are being evacuated in the tens of thousands to escape their expose to an impending disaster, illustrates better than anything the urgency to act now.

Learn more about internal displacement in Myanmar

Learn more about disaster displacement