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Villagers on the Bay of Bengal coast walk as they are evacuated by volunteers as a precaution against Cyclone Amphan at Bakkhali, West Bengal, India, May 19, 2020.
Mehaboob Gazi/AP
Health

COVID-19 Puts Added Strain on Urgent Cyclone Relief Efforts in Bangladesh and India


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Natural disasters threaten people’s lives as well as their economic prospects, and they are especially harmful when they hit low- and middle-income countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a new focus on the need for collaboration in order to overcome crises. You can join us in taking action on this and related issues here.

A devastating cyclone hit eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing more than 80 people, Reuters reports.

Officials reported on Thursday that at least 72 people have been killed in the Indian state of West Bengal, while at least 12 have been killed in the bordering country of Bangladesh, including a 5-year-old boy.

The cyclone, named Cyclone Amphan, was “one of the most intense in a decade” to hit Bangladesh, according to Al Jazeera's Tanvir Chowdhury.

“Five million people are without power ... thousands of houses have been washed away due to the tidal surge,” Chowdhury reported. "People are definitely going to lose croplands and fisheries. That area is known for shrimp culture and other aquaculture, so these people are going to lose their livelihood."

Reports from Reuters and Al Jazeera have described scenes of flooding due to storm surges, ripped up trees and power lines, and homes destroyed.

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“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world,” Bangladesh resident Azgar Ali told Reuters.

There is also concern that flooding will harm the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a UNESCO world heritage site known for its mangroves and population of Bengal tigers, Reuters reported.

The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, said that the region is "facing greater damage and devastation” from the cyclone than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Reuters. She has also announced a 10 billion rupee ($130 million) emergency fund for rebuilding roads, water, and health care systems.

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Yet the COVID-19 pandemic will make it an even greater challenge to provide safe relief to those affected by the cyclone.

Three million people in villages along the coast were evacuated to shelters, where social distancing will be difficult, putting residents at risk of coronavirus spread.

To mitigate the risk of a coronavirus outbreak, masks and hand sanitizer have been sent to the shelters, and a national disaster response team of 200 people is carrying out relief efforts on the ground, Azmat Ulla, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Bangladesh office, told Al Jazeera.

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"The coronavirus restrictions have obviously made things much more difficult, especially with regards to evacuation to cyclone shelters," he added.

There have been more than 26,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, according to the World Health Organization, and at least 386 confirmed deaths. More than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in West Bengal, according to the Times of India.