Bangladesh is on the verge of yet another disaster. Myanmar too. The very regions of these two countries that may be hardest hit are also the ones least equipped to deal with a major natural disaster.
Cyclone Mahasen is bearing down on eastern Bangladesh and Myanmar. 8.2 million people are potentially in the path of the storm.
Even a moderate cyclone can spell disaster for Bangladesh, where much of the country is low lying and vulnerable to floods and storm surges. A bad rainstorm sometimes wipes out whole villages.
The trajectory of this cyclone is particularly worrisome. Cox’s Bazar is province of Bangladesh that buttresses Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state. Many thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Rakhine have fled ethnic violence and discrimination in Myanmar to refugee camps and informal settlements across the border in Cox’s Bazar. The Bangladeshi government does not much like this influx, and keeps conditions there fairly miserable so as to deter refugee flows. Last year, three respected international NGOs were expelled from the region.
In all, there are about 400,000 stateless Rohinyga living in Cox’s Bazar. These men, women and children have fled violence and discrimination in Myanmar, and now live informal settlements in Bangladesh. Government services don’t reach this population; and neither does much international humanitarian aid.
A massive humanitarian crisis could befall this regions should a cyclone hit. And there is little chance that authorities in Dhaka would respond with appropriate urgency; nor would authorities make things easy for NGOs who want to provide emergency relief. After all, they’d rather these people just go away.
If the path of this storm stays true, expect a major, major human rights catastrophe in the region.