Bangladesh + 2 more

COVID-19 creates double whammy threat as Cyclone Amphan nears

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DHAKA, BANGLADESH, May 19, 2020 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its local partners on the ground are preparing to respond to Super Cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh and India, where the storm is posing an “impossible choice” for coastal residents as its bears down on the Bay of Bengal: remain in their homes, many of them not built to withstand a major storm, or evacuate to emergency shelters with limited space due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“There is limited space in existing evacuation shelters and people who have been on coronavirus lockdown might hesitate to leave their less-sturdy homes to go to a central – and possibly crowded – shelter,” said Snigdha Chakraborty, who is coordinating CRS’ response in both the Rohingya refugee camps and in coastal areas.

Space availability in cyclone shelters is limited due to coronavirus safe evacuation protocols. The government of Bangladesh is committed to following new coronavirus modified protocols that include physical distancing, augmented hygiene and changes in pace of evacuation.

Evacuation also will be complicated by movement restrictions, the suspension of public transportation and limited availability of critical supplies. Also, many Bangladesh residents have lost jobs because of lockdowns and have used up all their savings.

“Families are facing this impending disaster with empty bank accounts. Cash reserves are gone. COVID-19 lockdowns cut off income streams and forced families to use up their rainy-day funds just before a potentially record-breaking ‘rainy day’ hits,” Chakraborty said.

Chakraborty said in addition to complications from the coronavirus, disaster responses will be compounded by limited access to sanitation and safe water, broken dykes and limited health facilities in Khulna and on the coast, which are likely to be hardest hit.

“It paints a grim picture for the days ahead,” she said.

Amphan has been declared a Super Cyclonic storm, with wind speeds of up to 165 mph. It is currently tracking north-northwest toward West Bengal, India and the adjoining coast Bangladesh.

Refugees in Bangladesh camps, while not in direct line of the storm, also are at risk as many live in frail homes, have no evacuation centers and already are dealing with their first coronavirus cases.

The current available data does not indicate a direct impact of the storm in Cox’s Bazar region, site of the world’s largest refugee settlement, but there is still a high likelihood of sustained wind.

CRS and Caritas Bangladesh have pre-positioned emergency supplies and are supporting efforts to clean evacuation centers and procure critically needed supplies in local markets. In addition, CRS is supporting Caritas Bangladesh to work with community organizers and volunteers who can help distribute relief items after the storm hits.

Cyclone Amphan is the second super storm to hit this region, possibly near the strength and devastation of Cyclone Sidr in 2007.