Bangladesh's aid to Myanmar

Dr Arpita Hazarika *

Cyclone Storm Mocha has caused extensive devastation in Myanmar, affecting regions already facing challenges due to civil unrest, armed clashes, a changing climate and a fragile economy. The cyclone brought about destructive storm surges, heavy rainfall, and flooding, impacting areas such as Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Ayeyarwady, Mandalay, and Sagaing.

The State Administration Council responded by declaring natural disaster areas in Rakhine and Chin states, activating legal provisions which acknowledge the crucial role of the Myanmar Red Cross Society in responding such crises.

Initial data from the Myanmar Red Cross Society reveals that over 237,000 households across multiple states and regions have been affected. Water systems, sanitation facilities, public and community infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and religious buildings, as well as transportation infrastructure, have suffered severe damage or complete destruction. Livelihoods have been severely disrupted with the loss of livestock and flooding impacting cropland.

Some 1.6 million people in Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing, and Kachin states are in dire need of assistance after Mocha’s 250 kilometre per hour wind gusts destroyed homes, farmland and livestock. Speaking from hard-hit Rakhine State capital Sittwe, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Myanmar, Titon Mitra, said that time was of the essence as food reserves were being “completely wiped out”, water sources needed to be urgently decontaminated and the monsoon was just “a matter of weeks away”.

Some 1.6 million people have been identified as in need of assistance by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, but access for aid groups in the midst of Myanmar’s civil war is difficult. In Rakhine’s displacement camps – where more than 130,000 Rohingya have been forced by the military junta to live in squalid, dangerous conditions – an estimated 85% of shelters were destroyed. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is appealing for USD 11.25 million to scale up its emergency assistance to vulnerable popula-tions affected by Cyclone Mocha.

The impacts of the Extremely Severe Cyclone Mocha, which struck Myanmar on 14 May, greatly exacerbated existing needs on top of an already dire humanitarian situation for the more than 5.4 million people estimated to have been in the path of the cyclone.

The crisis comes at a time of increased political turmoil and conflict, compounding an already critical humanitarian situation, hence our rapid leveraging of existing resources around the country to support vulnerable populations most in need. Bangladesh has sent relief materials as humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar’s Rakhine state affected by Cyclone Mokha.

This information was informed in a press release of Bangladesh’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday (June 3). It is said that these relief materials have been provided with the cooperation of the Ministry of Disaster and Relief Management and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It is also said that the relief materials include dry food, tents, medicines, water purification tablets and a total of 120 tons of relief materials. Through the Armed Forces Department, Bangladesh Navy ships have been sent from Chittagong to Yangon on Friday (June 2) with relief materials. The ship is expected to arrive at Yangon port on June 5.

As a neighboring country, Bangladesh has extended its hand of support to the distressed people of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which has been affected by the catastrophic cyclone. In the past, Bangladesh also sent life-saving relief supplies to the people of Myanmar after the floods in 2015 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

The notification also said that Bangladesh as a humanitarian state has been providing relief assistance to people affected by natural disasters in different parts of the world. Besides, Bangladesh has sent relief materials and medical teams to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the global covid epidemic and earthquakes in Syria, Turkey and Afghanistan.

These humanitarian aid programs by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government have been globally appreciated and have played a role in opening new horizons in relations with friendly countries. In this case, as a neighboring country, Bangladesh’s response to this humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is really appreciable when the relations between two countries are stained on the Rohingya and border issue to some extent.

In terms of amount, aid provided by Bangladesh might be small in scale of the required fund but its prompt response is surely praiseworthy. Paddy’s diplomacy is a small initiative but its significance is huge. This small initiative will turn into a great achievement for both parties. We can hope that through this disaster cooperation, the two countries may be able to move forward in finding a solution to the ongoing crisis.

In times of difficulty, Bangladesh, as a friend and neighbour, stands by Myanmar. It is true that, by working together, Myanmar, Bangladesh and other members of the ASEAN, SAARC, BIMSTEC can overcome the crisis. The assistance is intended to support the Myanmar and international community’s efforts in overcoming the looming humanitarian crisis Rakhine, Myanmar. Myanmar can benefit from such kind of bilateral assistance thus far.

The geopolitics of South Asia and Southeast Asia are closely related due to their geographical proximity. Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors and the two countries have had a long-standing relationship dating back generations. Relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar were formalized on 13 January 1972, when Myanmar became the sixth state to recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation. The 271-kilometer Bangladesh-Myanmar border, which encompasses Cox’s Bazar and Rakhine State, is strategically significant for Bangladesh.

The border has been militarized due to fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an armed group claiming to fight for ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Due to the presence of unresolved issues such as this militarization, the presence of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and the maritime border demarcation, ties between the two neighbors have not always been friendly.

Nevertheless, the menace of Cyclone Mocha, which has just smashed into the coastlines of the two countries, represents a unique opportunity to work together amid adversity, and rekindle bilateral friendship by working through common problems. Since forming in the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Mocha has intensified to the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane. It was one of the most powerful storms in recent memory for Myanmar.

Myanmar and Bangladesh bear the brunt of cyclones regularly as a result of their intersection at the seven major basins of Southeast Asia. As such, Cyclone Mocha and past tropical storms have affected both countries. More broadly, they are major victims of climate change like many countries in the Global South. They could work together to address issues related to global environmental deterioration.

Besides major national problems of poverty and illiteracy, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s vulnerability to environmental deterioration is very alarming. But regional countries can join forces in the fight against poverty, disaster, which are the region’s biggest opponent. The countries in this region, should work together to achieve these goals. Many issues can be resolved in a bilateral manner.

It is hailed the delivery of the aid as a sign of solidarity and goodwill between the two countries. Bangladesh assists Myanmar in navigating its economic and humanitarian turmoil in Rakhine. Although Bangladesh faces a severe foreign reserve, It is really praiseworthy that Bangladesh has responded to overcome the crisis. Other neighbouring and south and Southeast Asian countries can follow Bangladesh’s footprint. Such kind of assistance can help mitigate Myanmar’s looming catastrophe.

While the Bangladeshi government took some bold decisions to help the country tide over its economic crisis, even the Bangladeshi public came forward to support Sri Lanka. Your real friends are tested when bad time comes. Bangladesh has stood by Sri Lanka, a friend in need and a friend indeed. Bangladesh promptly responded to an announcement of providing aid through food and medical support.

From a humanitarian perspective, the quick response of Bangladesh was lauded by many, nationally and internationally. Greatest humanitarian example: Bangladesh has already portrayed its image firmly as a humanitarian nation, when she warmly welcomed about 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Despite many diplomatic efforts, the repatriation of Rohingya people has been lingering for quite long.

Besides, Bangladesh has been tracking an impressive record in development and growth since last decade which will make it more capable of offering help to other nations in crisis. Thousands of more examples can be drawn where Bangladesh was among the fastest nations to stand beside others in terms of gravity, time extension to be provided by Bangladesh might be small in scale of the required demand but its prompt response is surely praiseworthy.

On the environmental front, it is evident that the Tatmadaw (or the “Grand Army” of Myanmar) and the Bangladesh military, the authorities of both countries, and NGOs can collaborate to lessen the risk of regional environmental degradation through co-ordinated disaster management systems, operations, and projects.

Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was one example of a disaster that affected both coastal countries. In these adverse circumstances, there were ample opportunities for Myanmar and Bangladesh to work together in reducing environmental degradation. There was also Cyclone Giri in 2010, and Cyclone Sitrang earlier in 2022.

To reduce the harm brought on by the tragedies common to both nations, Myanmar and Bangladesh should work together more closely in managing and forecasting such disasters. Ways to collaborate might encompass what specialists are calling “integrated approaches” and “regional cooperation.” They denote the sharing of information between government agencies.

Shared knowledge does not even need to be limited to bilateral relations, and it could be a potential advantage for countries across Asia to work together. Scientists from perhaps Sri Lanka and Thailand—as they are also a part of the Bay of Bengal and, correspondingly, neighbors of Bangladesh and Myanmar—should work together to find answers to environmental crises. Countries across Southeast Asia like Thailand share the same problems with violent tropical storms like Mocha.

The irony is that Myanmar’s junta, despite having been under a negative global spotlight, is probably the singular body that can take effective steps to foster these complicated ties. Bangladesh also wishes to be seen by Myanmar’s leaders as a friendly neighbor and peace-loving country.

Should there be a sincere engagement between Bangladesh and Myanmar—and with other countries—in good faith and the modest scope of achieving specific climate crisis-related goals, it could mean some degree of progress in regional stability and harmony in the regions of South and Southeast Asia.

What happens next will depend on a complex, convoluted network of stakeholders and power brokers that need to think big and put cooperation first, despite extremely difficult problems and disputes that cross multiple borders and nations.

* Dr Arpita Hazarika wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Dr Arpita Hazarika is a Gauhati University, Assam, India-based researcher.
She is very interested in refugee affairs, political economy, security and strategic affairs, and foreign policies of the Asia-Pacific region.
She visited a number of countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, UK, USA, France, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, and Canada.
She has research works on India-Bangladesh affairs
This article was webcasted on 29 August 2023.

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