Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Can Myanmar-Bangladesh cooperation during the disaster period usher a comprehensive tie?

Harunur Rasid is a London-based Bangladeshi expatriate who is a Bangladesh and Myanmar affairs observer, analyst, and researcher.

Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors and the two countries have a long-standing relationship spanning generations. The 271 km long Bangladesh-Myanmar border is strategically important for Bangladesh, although it has been militarized due to Myanmar’s ongoing internal conflict.

Relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar were formally established on 13 January 1972, when Myanmar became the sixth state to recognize Bangladesh as an independent entity. However, due to the presence of several unresolved issues such as Rohingya refugees and maritime demarcation, the scenario has changed in a hostile way and relations between these two neighbors have not always been as friendly as imagined. But this time they have to come closer from an environmental point of view. The intensity of Cyclone Mocha has once again reminded of the need for Myanmar-Bangladesh friendship.

Bilateral cooperation

The two neighboring countries are at the top among the countries affected by natural disasters. The destruction of Mocha is fully known. But Bangladesh and Myanmar will be at the top of the damage. Relief agencies in Bangladesh and Myanmar, however, have done a lot to deal with the disaster. But now is the time to adopt a long-term comprehensive emergency plan as a strong cyclone barrel for millions of vulnerable people.

Cooperation on the humanitarian ground

Mocha had already reached the ground. A few more hours of rampage might end up being another nightmare. However, the impact of Mocha was bringing rain and strong winds to the region.

Tropical Cyclone Giri last hit with similar strength in October 2010. It made landfall as an upper-level Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 250 km/h (155 mph). Giri killed more than 150 people and destroyed about 70% of the town of Kick Fiu. According to the United Nations, the storm destroyed about 15,000 houses in Rakhine state.

During this disaster, both Bangladesh and Myanmar could cooperate to reduce the risk of regional environmental degradation through integrated disaster management systems, operations and projects. Cyclone Mocha affected both Myanmar and Bangladesh. What Cyclone Sitrang did. This tropical cyclone hit India and Bangladesh on 25 October 2022. Besides, Cyclone Nargis of 2008 also hit India and Bangladesh. At that time both countries worked together to deal with the cyclone. That opportunity is also in front of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Regional cooperation

Cyclone Mocha only reminds us of the urgency of India-Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-China-Sri Lanka cyclone management cooperation. As a start, Myanmar-Bangladesh-India trilateral cooperation is a must in this regard.

Scientists from both nations, as well as perhaps India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, as they are also a part of the Bay of Bengal, should work together to find answers to the issues.

China can also be roped in to cooperate with India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka during such natural disasters. Cyclone Mocha only reminds us of the urgency of India-Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-China-Sri Lanka cyclone management cooperation. As a start, Myanmar-Bangladesh-India trilateral cooperation is a must in this regard.

Cooperation for the Rohingyas

Imagine trying to prepare your home for a tropical cyclone of more than 200kph that whips up heavy rains and floods as well as flinging debris around at lethal speeds. Now imagine that your home is a flimsy temporary shelter in a sprawling refugee camp. That is the reality that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh faced when Cyclone Mocha struck on Sunday.

The powerful storm, which has left a trail of destruction in its wake, is just the latest misfortune to befall a group that have suffered profoundly. Thousands of Rohingya were already living in camps inside Bangladesh, having fled years of persecution in Myanmar, when they were joined in 2017 by an estimated 700,000 more, running from a campaign of attacks that some UN officials have described as genocide. “My house is shaking as though it will fall any time,” said Mohammed Ali, 31, of Nayapara refugee camp. “They are so flimsy as they are made of bamboo and will collapse any time. My children are scared but we have nowhere to go.”

Indeed, the Rohingya are an entire community with nowhere to go. Their years of living in a dangerous, seemingly unending limbo is a situation that demands an immediate response – one that ultimately ends with a safe return to their homes in Myanmar as full citizens with all the rights that citizenship entails.

Bangladesh has many problems of its own, and although the authorities moved thousands of families from low-lying areas before the storm, Cox’s Bazar – described by the UN as the world’s biggest refugee settlement – remains without a cyclone shelter.

Enacting changes to mitigate the effects of seasonal monsoons and dry-season fires is possible. Many of the Rohingya in Bangladesh have been living in forced exile for years – children have been born in the camps, making them the only home they have known. Some Rohingya, keen to escape the camps and return to their homeland, have recently been presented with a bilateral pilot scheme for repatriation.

Cyclone Mocha has provided a sharp reminder of the daily peril the Rohingya face. It should focus minds on trying to eventually resolve the crisis.


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