Myo Min explores the long-term effects of Myanmar’s 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

Myo Min explores the long-term effects of Myanmar’s 2008 Cyclone Nargis. When considering stateless people (i.e. those people who do not have citizenship) in Myanmar, the first groups that may come to mind might be non-Buddhist religious groups and non-Bamar ethnic groups. Yet, we also need to consider Bamar Buddhists, particularly those impacted by Cyclone Nargis. As a result of the ignorance of Myanmar’s Immigration officials, groups like Cyclone Nargis victims haven’t been given adequate attention. This article is concerned with these victims, and, in particular, the people who lost their citizenship identification during Cyclone Nargis, largely due to the immigration system’s deficiencies.

On May 2, 2008, tropical Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster recorded in Myanmar’s history, devastated the country, and especially the Ayeyawady Delta region. Yet, even today, the adversity of the catastrophe hasn’t ended for some victims who have migrated to Yangon, who lost their citizenship documentation and haven’t recovered it. Due to their lack of citizenship documentation, these individuals have to face several challenges in their daily social lives and several limitations in political rights, social rights, economic rights, public health care and civil rights.

The statistics as to how many Nargis victims are without citizenship in Yangon is unknown because no research has ever been conducted on the issue until now. However, Nargis victims certainly contribute to the considerable number of stateless individuals in Myanmar because one direct effect of Nargis was the destruction or severe damage of over 800,000 houses. It also had a devastating impact on the environment, destroying paddy fields and killing tens of thousands of farm animals. As a result of these losses— both of homes and livelihoods— victims migrated to different cities in Myanmar and to other places they could reach, as there were no entitlements for victims and IDPs to receive protection and assistance from the country. The factors spurring this migration were the limited aid and assistance available to victims; the government denied or delayed the entry of international ships carrying relief supplies and even arrested citizens for undertaking local relief efforts. More than 1000 people migrated to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border, so it can be expected that a much higher number of people migrated to Yangon because it is relatively easier to reach. Ultimately, many of these migrants were left without citizenship documents.

Almost one-third of the population of Myanmar does not have citizenship documentation. Until now, the largest population of stateless persons globally are resident in Myanmar: the Rohingya of Rakhine State, estimated to be a population of more than one million people, which amounts to less than two per cent of the more than 50 million people in Myanmar. Whilst statelessness issues in Myanmar related to populations in Rakhine State are well-documented, to date there has not been a comprehensive review of the barriers that are experienced because of other reasons, including due to Cyclone Nargis.

The Impact of Cyclone Nargis Tropical Cyclone Nargis, a category 4 storm that that struck the Ayeyawady Delta, Yangon (Rangoon) and other parts of Lower (southern) Myanmar on 2–3 May 2008, was the biggest natural disaster in Myanmar’s recorded history and the most destructive cyclone in the eastern Indian Ocean region since 1991. The final number of casualties is still unknown, but in late June 2008, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 2.4 million people were affected and the numbers of dead and/or missing were more than 140,000, with another 1 million people displaced.

However, the government’s initial response to the cyclone shocked the world. International agencies and local donors were prohibited from delivering aid, which, in turn, caused the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of people to be put in jeopardy. The government refused to issue visas to international aid workers and insisted that only government authorities themselves be allowed to distribute the aid. It also restricted access to the most affected areas. It was only days later, and after considerable international pressure, that the regime made it easier for aid workers and supplies to enter Myanmar. But the government’s relationship with international and local relief agencies remained fraught in the months that followed – which potentially put the lives of survivors at risk.

Delays in the delivery of aid left millions of people injured, hungry and homeless. More than 700,000 homes were fully or partially destroyed. The districts with a high volume of outmigration are concentrated in Ayeyawady Region. Ayeyawady lost more than 80,000 migrants to North Yangon in the five years prior to the Myanmar National Census of 2014. Most of them lost their citizenship documents in Nargis and have not been able to replace these documents because they do not have the resources to pay the associated fees or collect the supporting information from their birth village that is needed to replace their card. Without a citizenship scrutiny card (CSC), they are limited in the work they can undertake, and live week to week working at factories and industries.