(Bloomberg) — Bangladesh and Myanmar are evacuating hundreds of thousands of people as Cyclone Mocha will make landfall on Sunday, potentially destroying one of the region’s most vulnerable areas.
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The storm could hit the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, home to about a million Rohingyas who fled there from neighboring Myanmar years ago. Wind speeds can reach up to 210 kilometers (130 mi) per hour, and the storm is equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane.
The Bangladesh Meteorological Department warned of storm surges, flash floods and landslides in coastal areas. The country has raised the danger signal for Cox’s Bazar to 10 (on a scale of 1 to 11) and closed seaports and airports in the coastal zone.
The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency, has warned of heavy rains, floods and landslides that could affect “hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people”, including Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugees and six million people in need of humanitarian assistance in neighboring Rakhine State in Myanmar.
Storms in the region are not uncommon at this time of year, but Cyclone Mocha comes at a time when there is more focus on extreme weather, after parts of Asia experienced intense heat in April and May. With climate change and a looming shift in patterns toward El Nino conditions, heat waves and major storms may become more frequent or intense.
The ability of governments to respond to such threats is critical.
Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 was the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s history. More than 140,000 people were killed and the lives of 2.4 million others affected.
Myanmar’s civil war has intensified since the army seized power in a 2021 coup. The fighting has displaced more than a million people, mostly the Rohingya minority, whom the UN says are victims of “ethnic cleansing” by the military. The ruling junta has issued an evacuation order for about a million people in seven townships in Rakhine state, though many more are likely to be affected in other parts of the country.
The country’s meteorological agency has raised its warning for the cyclone to red, the highest level, and advised residents of western coastal areas to evacuate as soon as possible. The junta has also banned fishing and access to beaches and coastal areas across the country.
The storm caused widespread power outages in both countries. Most of Myanmar’s 330 townships, including the capital Naypyidaw and the commercial capital Yangon, have no access to electricity.
In Bangladesh, fuel supplies to the power grid shrank after the government cut off the flow of liquefied natural gas from two floating terminals. Gas for cooking was out for hours in the capital city of Dhaka.
Bangladesh’s energy ministry called for patience and said power will be restored when weather conditions improve. The government has also asked farmers to harvest their rice crop immediately and suspended public exams for two million students scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
Other economic activities affected by Cyclone Mocha:
According to Port Authority Secretary Omar Faruk, Bangladesh’s main seaport at Chattogram was closed on Friday evening.
Southbound river transport in Bangladesh has been suspended, said Saiful Islam, a director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority
Domestic flights to Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been suspended since Friday and bus lines have canceled their routes there
–With help from Low De Wei and Tassia Sipahutar.
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