A comprehensive policy should address the lessons from emergencies like Covid-19 and Cyclone Amphan
First Covid-19 then Cyclone Amphan
Every year people of South Asia face one or two cyclones - especially in the Bay of Bengal, becoming more and more intense and powerful day by day. In the last five years, seven cyclones struck the coast of Bangladesh and West Bengal, and three in Odisha. Tamilnadu faced four storms in 2016 with a total of six storms till today. The coast of Maharashtra seemed relatively less vulnerable, and Cyclone Nisharg proved they also needed some backstops.
The novel coronavirus also impacted the areas which are vulnerable to tropical cyclones. The socio-economic consequences of this pandemic are worsening the situation. The coastal region has a significant number of infected people, lockdown and other coping strategies are already implemented there, which can be interrupted by disaster coping strategies.
Losses inflicted from Amphan and Nisharg
This year in mid May the coastal zone of Bay of Bengal was first ravaged by Cyclone Amphan. It was a forceful hit, after the Cyclone Sidr in 2007, and the first super cyclonic storm after the 1999 Odisha Cyclone. It has been estimated that Cyclone Amphan cost almost thirteen billion dollars, surpassing the record of cyclone Nargis of 2008 it has become the costliest cyclone recorded ever in the North Indian Ocean.
The Indian Subcontinent faced the major brunt of the cyclone with damage in Eastern India and coastal regions of Bangladesh in some districts of Khulna and Barishal. Heavy rainfall produced in Sri Lanka and Southern India. With total fatalities of 128 people in this region, 26 people died in Bangladesh, 4 in Sri Lanka, and 98 in India.
Three different cyclonic activities of Amphan created massive destruction. Firstly, heavy rainfall which mainly occurred in Sri Lanka, Kerala, and Odisha, caused flooding and landslides. Secondly, storm surges inundated the coastal regions of West Bengal and Bangladesh, and finally the heavy winds caused infrastructural damages around the cyclone’s path.
In Sri Lanka, 500 homes were damaged by Amphan. Around four hundred houses were destroyed in the southern part of India as Deccan Herald states. Eastern region, which faced the cruelest face of Amphan - according to Hindustan Times, West Bengal has to count a cost of 13.2 billion dollars in damage with millions of houses destroyed, and 70 percent of the state population affected directly.
An article on the New Indian Express reports that Odisha faced a significant amount of infrastructural costs - 4.4 million people were directly affected, and 3.8 million people were left without power. Coastal regions of Bangladesh also counted 130 million estimated damage tolls, 500,000 people became homeless, embankment breaching caused saltwater intrusion, waterlogging, and flooding.
The people of most of these places had the experience of facing disaster. For the people of Mumbai, it was the first storm to hit home since the last one in 1891. Not only Amphan, within 2 weeks of Amphan, Nisarga made landfall in Mumbai, killing three people. Landfalls and heavy rain caused infrastructural damages around the state of Maharashtra. The damages from the two cyclones resulted in unprecedented losses for the people.
Preparing for natural hazards in face of a pandemic
As a global health crisis of the 21st century, Covid-19, requires people to maintain social distance, and practice proper personal hygiene to prevent the spread, and further contraction of the virus. While both India and Bangladesh are currently carrying out full and partial lockdowns to prevent contraction of the disease, it wasn’t so when Cyclone Amphan or Nishorgh hit. The incidents of the cyclones had only increased the chances of exposure to the virus, Three different aspects can be pointed out, where Covid-19 and storms created a nexus of vulnerabilities.
Firstly, cyclones created serious interruptions in terms of social distancing. Cyclone shelters are too small and compact, so it is hard to maintain social distancing there. Again, embankment breaching caused inundations, and homeless people to take shelters in relatively high places together. If the infections started to spread there, it would have spread quickly and faster.
Secondly, infrastructural damages can cause interruptions in relief management by adding more people to the vulnerable zone. Amphan added more people in the queue for relief that is needed for the Covid impacted.
Finally, all the consequences of these lead to an economic crisis. Countries are already facing severe problems in terms of the national economy. In coastal regions, regular economic activities have been seriously damaged. People became jobless, which usually leads to internal migration, but it is not happening this time, because the whole country is facing a job crisis. In the RMG sector, almost one million workers are already being laid off.
Managing natural disaster and health hazard together
Bangladesh does take precautionary measures for natural disasters. But this year when the cyclones coincided with Covid-19, they made the situation worse for Both Bangladesh and India. Disasters present significant challenges in poverty reduction, development, and economic growth of the country and to the lives, livelihood, and health of its people.
So to face the next crisis, in whatever combination, we have to make some adjustments. To cope with disasters, both climate change induced such as cyclones, and the current public health crisis such as the pandemic, we need to have a robust disaster management policy that also addresses the health hazards beyond just natural hazards.
Impact of disasters is the worst on the impoverished, most marginalized and vulnerable communities. But in the case of Covid-19, it has had an effect on both the poor and the affluent. Therefore, the only option left is to strengthen our systems.
A comprehensive policy should address the lessons from emergencies like Covid-19 and Cyclone Amphan. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, then necessary measures and initiatives about climate change should be taken immediately.
Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo is a student of the Department of Geography and Environment, Jahangirnagar University.
Adiba Bintey Kamal works as a Project Associate at International Centre for Climate Change and Development.