Bangladesh + 2 more

ACT alert Bangladesh, India and Nepal 01/2003 - Cold spell claims more than 740 lives

News and Press Release
Originally published
Geneva, 13 January, 2003 - A severe cold spell has swept over Bangladesh, northern India and Nepal causing more than 740 deaths since mid December 2002. Bangladesh has been hit hardest and meteorologists have forecast another cold front for later in the month.

The cold front has affected an estimated population of 50,000 in the northern and north-western districts of Bangladesh. Impoverished villagers, infants and elderly people have been the first victims of the cold that has been worsened by thick fog which has kept daytime temperatures very low, causing massive damage to agriculture.

The daily Jugantar newspaper reported that 109 people across the country had died due to the cold by January 10, bringing the toll to 396. No official death toll has been released but newspapers have given almost daily accounts of deaths due to the cold.

In the western city of Rajshahi, 210 kilometres (131 miles) west of Dhaka, the temperature plummeted to 5.6 degrees Celsius (42 Fahrenheit) making it the coldest place this winter in Bangladesh. The country's average winter temperature is 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Government of Bangladesh has not requested international assistance but has appealed to all humanitarian organisations in the country to assist the population by distributing blankets and warm clothing to the most needy, children and elderly.

On 9 January 2003, the World Food Program chaired an inter-agency emergency meeting with the Government, United Nations Development Program, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, as well as international and national NGOs to discuss the situation and co-ordinate the ongoing relief operations. The Government of Bangladesh has distributed 5,000 blankets from its disaster emergency stocks. UN organisations as well as international and local NGOs have started to assist the vulnerable families.

ACT members, Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), Church of Bangladesh (CoB), Social Health & Education Development (SHED) Board and Koinoinia met on 12 January to co-ordinate their emergency response. The ACT members have already distributed the following items from their emergency stocks:

RDRS: 500 Sarees, 500 lunghis and 1,500 children's garments
CoB: 400 blankets
SHED Board: 50 Sarees, 50 lunghis and 30 cartons of BP-5 biscuits
CCDB: 2,400 blankets, 1,000 children's garments and 100 cartons of BP-5 (high protein) biscuits.

CCDB plans to further distribute 10,000 blankets, 1,000 sarees, 3,000 sets of children's garments, 350 cartons of BP-5 biscuits and provide food assistance to 1,000 families. CCDB has already provided 500 blankets, 500 sets of children's garments and 25 cartons of BP-5 biscuits to the Church of Bangladesh and 1,100 blankets and 30 cartons of BP-5 biscuits to SHED Board.

The ACT members have further decided to prepare a joint RRF appeal for the amount of $ 50,000. ACT CO urgently requests its funding members to indicate pledges on the basis of this Alert to enable ACT CO to deal with this request as an RRF.


The cold front has also claimed about 100 lives in India according to media reports. Most of the victims are homeless, street dwellers and beggars. The authorities in the worst hit areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states have been distributing blankets and lighting bonfires on street corners to keep people warm. Schools and government buildings are being used as shelters for the homeless. ACT member Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) started the distribution of 20,000 woolen blankets to orphanages, hostels, hospitals, leprosy colonies, old people's homes, pavement and slum dwellers in anticipation of the cold weather, in November 2002. CASA is not planning to provide further support at the moment.


In Nepal, two people were reported by the police in the Mideast Tarai region, Mahottari District to have died as a result of the cold. A sudden rise in the number of patients suffering from flu, pneumonia and scabies has been reported in the district hospital and health centres. ACT CO has contacted its member LWF Nepal for any additional information.

Thank you for your attention.

For further information please contact:

ACT Director, Thor-Arne Prois (phone +41 22 791 6032 or mobile phone + 41 79 203 6055)
ACT Appeals Officer, Mieke Weeda (phone +41 22 791 6035 or mobile phone +41 79 285 2916)

ACT Web Site address:

ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.

The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.