Children in India and Bangladesh are increasingly vulnerable after Cyclone Amphan destroyed the homes and livelihoods of thousands of families already struggling to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
The most powerful cyclone to strike the two countries in 20 years, Amphan claimed more than 100 lives and forced more than three million people into storm shelters. Many survivors are now worried about contracting COVID-19 after being confined in cramped quarters alongside scores of others seeking refuge.
Some families chose to ride out the storm elsewhere.
“Every year, we face cyclones and we need to go to cyclone shelters. This time we didn’t go because of the fear of coronavirus,” said Urmi, 12, whose village in southern Bangladesh lost thousands of homes. “
The space was crowded, and most people didn’t have masks. My family took shelter in a school and we found it safer.”
Like Urmi’s village, many coastal and low-lying areas, in India and Bangladesh, are flooded following heavy rains. The cyclone blew roofs off thousands of homes and collapsed embankments, flooding vast areas of farmland with seawater, ruining crops, and decimating livelihoods.
Even the most minimal impact of Cyclone Amphan could increase long-term vulnerabilities for the rural poor given the COVID-19 crisis.
In the world’s largest refugee camp, in southern Bangladesh, no lives were lost, but the storm affected 7000 households, partially levelling almost 1500 makeshift homes.
“Cox’s Bazar was spared a direct hit this time, but we still have nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in bamboo-and-tarp shelters three years after they fled Myanmar,” said Rachel Wolff, director for World Vision’s Rohingya Refugee Response in Bangladesh. “We may not be so lucky next time and loss of life could be catastrophic if more isn’t done long-term to find durable solutions.”
In India, poor farmers in the low-lying Basanti area suffered some of the worst devastation.
“The well-being of children and their families here is a priority for us,” said Franklin Jones, head of Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs with World Vision India. “Many homes and farmlands are only separated from the sea by narrow embankments that collapsed during the cyclone.
The marginalised and impoverished vulnerable communities here were already facing the double threat of COVID-19 and ever-worsening climate change.”
Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in both India and Bangladesh, hampering emergency aid efforts, as relief teams rush to provide help while protecting themselves and others against COVID-19.
World Vision in India and Bangladesh is delivering life-saving humanitarian relief to children and families, including food, hygiene kits, and shelter repair materials. Cash vouchers will also be provided to help support them through the recovery stage. The relief effort will focus mainly on Satkhira and Khulnain Bangladesh, and Basanti and Kolkata in India.
“COVID-19 travel bans and social distancing rules were already making it very difficult for the poorest to survive,” said Cherian Thomas, leader of World Vision’s South Asia and Pacific region.
“Many families were only eating twice a day. The cyclone has aggravated the situation. Flooding could lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, including potentially deadly diarrhoea caused by contamination of water sources.”
Cyclone relief and early recovery response will be integrated into World Vision’s ongoing COVID-19 response in both countries, which has so far reached 2.7 million people, including 1.1 million children.