News / Asia

Distrust Hinders Burma Cyclone Evacuation Effort

Internally displaced Rohingya people load rickshaws with children and belongings to leave their camp in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 16, 2013.
Internally displaced Rohingya people load rickshaws with children and belongings to leave their camp in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 16, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
Authorities in Bangladesh and Burma are working to quickly move to safety hundreds of thousands of people still at risk from cyclone Mahasen.  The tropical storm hit Bangladesh and is expected to make landfall as early as Friday in western Rakhine state in Burma, where some people displaced from last year's sectarian violence have been reluctant to move. 

Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate parts of southern Bangladesh as the cyclone brought heavy winds and rains to flood the area.

Although the storm weakened before coming ashore in Bangladesh, Burma is bracing for an expected landfall Friday in western Rakhine state where attention is focused on tens of thousands of people living in temporary relief camps.

Sectarian violence last year displaced 140,000 people into the camps, the vast majority of them ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

The United Nations says about 70,000 are especially at risk, living in low-lying areas or in makeshift shelters and tents.

  • A vehicle moves internally displaced Rohingya to a safer place ahead of Cyclone Mahasen at a camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingyas wait on a truck to leave their camp Sittwe, Burma, May 16, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya people take shelter in a building ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • Soldiers wait to help people move to safe location at a Rohingya internally displaced person camp outside of Sittwe, Burma, May 15, 2013.
  • An internally displaced Rohingya woman walks carrying a sibling in a makeshift camp in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Novice Buddhist monks play in the sea in Sittwe, Burma ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, May 14, 2013.
  • Thandawli villagers stand by the bank of a river in a camp for Rohingya internally displaced persons outside Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • A Rakhine Buddhist woman and her child take in a monastery because of the arrival of the Cyclone Mahasen, Sittwe, Burma, May 14, 2013.
  • Lightning is seen over the Sule pagoda and the former city hall of Rangoon, Burma, May 13, 2013.

Authorities and international aid groups are relocating the IDPs to safer shelters.

Vivian Tan, the regional spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said at least 35,000 people were moved as of Wednesday but some were resisting.

"Some did not like the relocation sites designated by the government.  Some were afraid that they would lose their spots in the existing IDP camps," Tan explained.  "Some were worried they may be asked to go back to their villages, that they fled last year, after the storm.  So, there's a number of concerns and we're trying to get as much reassurances from the government that people will be allowed to go back to the IDP camps after the storm passes."

There is little trust between the Rohingya and authorities after clashes last year with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists left 200 dead and thousands of homes burned to the ground.

The Rohingya bore the brunt of the violence and have been living in segregated camps ever since.  Human Rights Watch accused authorities of fomenting ethnic cleansing, a charge they deny.

Burma does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens or an ethnic group and considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Burma for generations.

Nonetheless, President's Office Minister Aung Min told reporters in Rangoon Wednesday all would receive help with no discrimination between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya.

He said they cannot stop disaster if the cyclone hits.  But, it is their duty to do as much as possible to prevent damage and reduce the death toll.  He said preparation work will be done without distinguishing race and religion.  He added that all their actions will be transparent and they will also receive advice from international organizations.

Aung Min said international humanitarian organizations that have been helping at IDP camps are ready to provide cyclone aid as needed.

The government's response is in stark contrast with the previous military government's handling of the last cyclone in 2008.

Cyclone Nargis swept across the Irrawaddy delta, southwest of Rangoon, killing at least 130,000 people.  Authorities made few preparations and initially refused outside help, which critics say contributed to the death toll.

International aid and rights groups have for months been warning the camps in Rakhine state were not built to deal with storms that come during the rainy season.

The UN's Tan acknowledges Burmese authorities could have started evacuations sooner and worked faster.  But, she said the change in attitude to foreign help is significant and they are working well with international organizations, including the United Nations.

"The international community and humanitarian agencies are doing whatever we can at the moment.  But, we certainly need to stay engaged because this is just the beginning of several months of rains that will hit the region," Tan noted. "So, things aren't going to get better.  We need to stay engaged to make sure that shelters are built, that people are not forgotten once this cyclone passes."

Since last year's unrest, international aid groups in Rakhine say Buddhist extremists have prevented access to some camps and threatened their staff.

Despite concerns about helping relocate Rohingya ahead of the cyclone, Tan said they have not heard of any problems for aid groups.

The UNHCR has tents and plastic sheets in Rakhine and will continue building shelters in safer locations after the storm clears.  

Tan said the UN's World Food Program has about one month's supply of food in the area and Burma's Ministry of Health has prepositioned staff and medicine, though she could not say if their numbers were adequate.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: بابل from: http://www.babilnet.net/v
May 16, 2013 9:14 AM
Hurricanes cause a lot of destruction and the weather conditions and natural causes related to nature

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs