Four days after Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Myanmar, killing hundreds and devastating communities in its path, aid groups seeking to deliver humanitarian aid were left stymied before the military council on Thursday as survivors faced mounting threats of starvation and disease.
Pierre Peyron, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said aid agencies were ready to deliver much-needed food, medicine and other supplies, but were awaiting approval from the military regime.
Aid groups fear the death toll, estimated by some to be more than 450, will rise as cyclone victims face food shortages, disease, lack of clean water and the loss of their homes. Survivors also face the danger of unexploded landmines that may have been moved during the floods. An estimated 5.4 million people in Myanmar were affected by the storm.
Without rapid aid, humanitarian experts fear the death toll could rise, as was the case after Cyclone Nargis, the catastrophic 2008 cyclone that battered Myanmar to the east and killed more than 135,000 people. The military government at the time was also criticized for its slow response.
“We have requested unfettered access to the affected communities,” said Mr. Perone. “For delivery, we will need access to affected people, relaxation of travel permit requirements and expedited customs clearance of goods.”
The military council has not publicly addressed its decision to prevent international aid groups from entering the affected areas, where rebels seeking autonomy have long fought the army. The military council said it was sending aid, but most of the survivors interviewed by The New York Times said they had not received any assistance from the military.
A spokesman for the military council could not be reached for comment.
After sharing power with civilian leaders for a decade, the military seized power in a 2021 coup and is now locked in a bloody civil war with armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy forces.
The cyclone hit areas where much fighting took place, including Rakhine State, Chin State and Magway District. Rescue workers, activists and flood survivors say the military is reluctant to allow foreigners into the area because it wants to maintain control over who receives aid.
In Matupi, a town in Chin State, farmer Salai Khong Lien, 68, said he fled to higher ground in the forest with his wife and two grandchildren on Sunday before the storm hit. The hurricane blew the roof off their house, and now they have nowhere to go.
“We have no shelter, food or drink,” he said over the phone. “I just hope we get help before we die.”
On Thursday, the military council reported that 48 people had died in the storm, although rescuers in one devastated area told The Times the number was nearly 10 times that.
Dr. Win Myat Aye, minister for humanitarian affairs and disaster management in the rival national unity government, said 455 people had died, according to reports he had received.
He said most of the dead were Rohingya Muslims who were herded into resettlement camps more than a decade ago.
“The main reason why Rohingyas died in large numbers during the cyclone is that they are forced to live in a small area with a large population,” he said. “The majority of Rohingya deaths are due to a lack of freedom of movement and unfair restrictions on their rights.”
The minister called on the military council to allow international humanitarian organizations to deliver aid without restrictions.
“International organizations have announced how they will help,” he said. But to help the displaced, they must adhere to the SCAF’s agenda. The army says it will help all people, but in reality, words and deeds are different.
One of the hardest hit places has been the area around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, where many Rohingya camps are located.
One of the rescue workers there, U Tin Naing, estimated that 95 percent of the homes in the area were damaged or destroyed. He said at least 400 bodies were found and immediately buried.
He said, “We are still counting.” “We still cannot collect the death toll due to poor phone lines and internet connectivity.”
Khing Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which has fought Myanmar’s military in its quest for autonomy since 2009, said the region was in dire need of help.
“When the storm hit, the food that had been collected to help earlier was damaged by the rain,” he said. “Shelter, food, drinking water and medicine are urgently needed.”
Soldiers made an offer to provide food on Wednesday to Rohingya living in one camp, but people living in several nearby camps said they received nothing.
In Matupi, about 100 miles north of Sittwe, activists said the ongoing war between resistance fighters and the army would complicate recovery efforts.
“Since it is a war-torn region, we are concerned about the dangers of military landmines and unexploded ordnance that were exposed by the storm,” said Salai Mang Hri Lien, Program Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization.