For the second time in just over a week, a devastating cyclone has hit COVID-19-ravaged India.
Cyclone Yaas made landfall on May 25 across West Bengal and Odisha, with mammoth waves, torrential rain, and strong winds forcing the evacuation of more than 1.5 million people across the state’s east, according to local media reports.
Three people have died, and 300,000 homes have been destroyed.
Cyclone Yaas comes just days after Cyclone Tauktae, the strongest ever to hit India's west coast, killed over 140 people.
Health officials, politicians, and activists have raised concern about the increased risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 for people forced to live in temporary evacuation centres. Roads blocked by rubble and fallen trees will also impact vital oxygen and medical supplies from reaching hospitals.
COVID-19 spiked in India last month, with the nation recording over 300,000 cases each day for almost four weeks.
"Hundreds of thousands of children and their families risk being left homeless, forced to sleep outside, or with relatives and friends as Cyclone Yaas approaches, leaving them unable to follow social distancing guidelines and at risk of being exposed to the virus,” Chittapriyo Sadhu, the deputy director of program management at Save the Children India, said in a statement.
Damage and destruction caused by cyclone Yass near Digha beach pic.twitter.com/jsDZUv6PPj— Anupam Mishra (@Anupammishra777) May 26, 2021
Fears have also arisen about how the overlapping crises could affect child trafficking and marriage.
"Thousands of homes are at risk of being destroyed as well as huge swathes of cropland and farm animals that families depend on for food and income,” Sadhu said. “West Bengal has the highest rate of child marriage in India, and we’re extremely concerned that if families lose their incomes, it will trigger higher numbers of children being married off or forced into child labour.”
Sadhu added: “Child trafficking is also rife in this area of the country, and when disaster hits, children are exposed to an even greater risk of exploitation.”
A 2020 report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies revealed that last year, over 50 million people around the world simultaneously suffered from COVID-19 and climate-related weather disasters.
Red Cross Adviser Julie Arrighi said the number of environmental and health disasters coinciding is only going to increase as climate change worsens — and that the world's poorest and most vulnerable will be the ones forced to bear the brunt.
"While not all climate-related disasters have a direct link with climate change, it is unequivocal that due to global warming, we are facing a more volatile climate with more weather extremes,” Arrighi said in a statement. “COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities like never before and … compounded suffering for millions of people affected by climate-related disasters.”