Cyclone Amphan And COVID-19: Mass Destruction In South Asia

Cyclone Amphan has pummelled India and Bangladesh and continues to leave a trail of mass destruction and chaos as the two countries attempt to recover. As of May 23rd, at least 106 deaths were confirmed. As per disaster management officials, 80 are from the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, the remaining 26 are from Bangladesh. In addition to these fatalities, the cyclone has left an estimated $13 billion in damage to infrastructure and crops. Officials cite the collapse of buildings, electrocution, and falling trees as the primary reasons for the deaths. The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has declared the cyclone coupled with COVID-19, will place over 19 million children at imminent risk. 

According to West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banarjee, the impact of the cyclone is far worse than COVID-19. India and Bangladesh are currently under lockdown, and evacuated people are in no position to abide by social-distancing regulations. Many fear those seeking refuge in packed shelters will further intensify the risk of COVID-19 infections. This week alone, India has over 100,000 confirmed cases and Bangladesh has 32,000. Several shelters have already taken precautionary measures and are only being used at half-capacity due to social distancing regulations. While Bangladesh currently has 4,000 cyclone shelters, locals report schools and religious sites being cleared out in order to accomodate the masses. 

“Bangladesh has a history of being hit by cyclones, but Amphan ranks among the most powerful,” said Mostak Hussain, the humanitarian director of Save the Children in Bangladesh. Amphan is reportedly the only second “super cycle” recorded in the Bay of Bengal. Days prior to the cyclone, meteorologists estimated the storm to be one of the deadliest in decades. The countries’ news channels document the horrific aftermath of the storm, documenting electrical wires and lamp-posts short-circuiting, bulldozed houses, uprooted trees, and winds so strong that reporters struggled to remain on air. 

As both countries embark on their post-cyclone clean up, many ponder about the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, of which one million refugees are currently at risk. The Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh since 2017 in order to flee from violence and persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Residents of the camp have resorted to stockpiling food and wrapping government documents in plastic as cautionary measures. The population had also reported several cases of COVID-19 in prior weeks. As of late, the refugee camps have no evacuation shelters to flee to. 

Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi announced $132 million in government aid and has pledged to rebuild regions damaged by the cyclone. In addition, the European Union has also pledged to donate 1.6 million euros to India and Bangladesh. 

The death toll was significantly lower than previous cyclones, attributed to timely projections and prompt evacuations. However, coastal regions bore significant damage, ravaging villages and shrimp farms vital to Bangladesh’s economy. 

Scientists have long warned of more powerful storms to ravage parts of the earth as a byproduct of climate change and rising temperatures. Bangladeshi scientist Saleemul Haq has noted that as the two countries proceed with their recovery stage, the rebuilding effort must combine disaster risk reduction, enhanced public health infrastructure, and adaptation to climate change. Through the use of these tactics, it is likely the global community’s ability to cope with super cyclones and pandemics that are now more prone to develop under a climate changed world.