Sweeping across western Myanmar last week, Cyclone Komen has caused extensive damage in the region, hampering assessment and relief efforts, including to areas where thousands of displaced people are living, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
“But our teams, as well as other UN and non-governmental organizations, have so far managed to reach camps for internally displaced people in Rakhine’s provincial capital Sittwe, as well as in nearby townships such as Pauktaw and Myebon,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
“In 24 camps assessed so far, a quarter of the temporary shelters are damaged, and more than 21,000 displaced people affected as a result. Several years on from their construction, many of these shelters had become fragile and unable to withstand severe weather,” he explained.
UNHCR and its partners are still assessing the impact on the existing displaced populations in Rakhine and Kachin states, with a view to identifying immediate needs and distributing relief. Rakhine state has been declared one of four 'natural disaster zones' by the Myanmar Government, alongside Chin state and Sagaing and Magway regions.
Assessment teams also have been deployed to the camps for the internally displaced in Minbya, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, which are only accessible by boat, after humanitarian workers had to clear debris from waterways.
UNHCR will distribute relief aid once the assessments are completed, Mr. Edwards said. It has already distributed aid such as tarpaulins, blankets, mats and buckets to those hosted in official reception centres, as well as others who have been affected.
He also noted that parts of Buthidaung township remain underwater. UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff have reached 68 villages so far and found over 18,000 people displaced by the floods. “As assessments continue, we are distributing tarpaulins and mats to those affected,” said Mr. Edwards.
UNHCR’s assistance to people affected by the cyclone and floods is part of a wider inter-agency response to support the Myanmar Government's relief efforts. UNHCR continues to work with the authorities to find longer-term solutions to situations of internal displacement.
The Myanmar Government reported yesterday that 39 people had lost their lives over the past week and over 200,000 people had been affected by heavy monsoon rains and flooding across the country.
Those figures were likely to rise in the coming days as more areas became accessible, according to Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who also briefed reporters in Geneva.
The Myanmar authorities, he announced, had today formally requested international assistance, although the UN and international humanitarian organizations had been working closely with the Myanmar authorities and supporting the humanitarian response since the beginning of the flooding on 30 July.