ActionAid’s emergency teams are supporting communities as they face the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan, amid the rising threat of Covid-19.
More than three million people from coastal villages were evacuated to safety before the deadly storm tore through India and Bangladesh, tearing apart homes, destroying huge areas of farmland, uprooting thousands of trees, and flattening electricity poles.
Women leaders and young volunteers, trained by ActionAid, are supporting affected communities by providing food support and hygiene supplies.
Emergency teams found that social distancing proved incredibly difficult in crowded cyclone shelters. A new case of Covid-19 was confirmed the day after the cyclone in Pathorghata bazar, Bangladesh, one of the areas most affected by the storm.
Debabrat Patra, ActionAid India’s Associate Director and humanitarian response lead, says:
"Many lives were saved by evacuating people to cyclone shelters, but the worry now is that coronavirus will spread rapidly.
"Communities are already reeling from battling the Covid-19 crisis. The poorest and most marginalised, migrant workers and others in informal, daily wage jobs, will now be facing even greater loss of livelihood.”
Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh, says:
"Communities need urgent support as they are without basic necessities such as food, clean water and materials to rebuild their homes. Health check-ups, public health awareness and hygiene materials, must also be part of the emergency response.
"Violence against women and girls increases during humanitarian crises and disease outbreaks. Women’s protection and leadership must be central to response plans and it is vital that women and girls have access to safe shelter."
More than 57,000 homes were severely damaged or blown away in the East Medinipur district of West Bengal. ActionAid partner, Swapan Panda, said that 70-80% of houses in communities they support had lost roofs. Fields are under a foot of water and all the crops are either badly destroyed or washed away. Recently harvested grains have been damaged by flood water.
In Kendrapara, Odisha, the storm surge broke through river embankments and flooded farmland, leaving 4,000 hectares of crops damaged with salt water.
The storm has battered coastal areas of India and Bangladesh hit by cyclones Bulbul and Fani last year, where communities are still recovering and people’s resilience to climate disasters is constantly getting eroded.
As extreme weather disasters increase in intensity and frequency, communities on the frontline of climate change in the Global South are bearing the brunt of a crisis they did the least to cause.
In Bangladesh, low lying coastal areas saw swathes of farmland destroyed due to embankment collapses, with saltwater damage expected to have long-lasting consequences in livelihoods. A huge number of homes were damaged by strong winds and storm surge.
Many farmers and fisherfolk, who had already switched to working as day laborers due to the constant onslaught of extreme weather disasters, have been unable to work for more than 30 days due to Covid-19 restrictions on infrastructure projects.
How ActionAid is responding
Disaster risk reduction volunteers and women leaders in coastal areas of West Bengal and Odisha are supporting vulnerable families with food and hygiene supplies.
In Kolkata, at least 15 people have died, roads were flooded, and millions were left without power. ActionAid’s partners report that the most deprived slum areas were the hardest hit.
ActionAid is already working with 5,000 homeless families, 1,000 domestic workers and 2,500 families of informal workers living in slum areas, providing food support as part of the organisation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Volunteers and women leaders worked in close collaboration with the local authorities to evacuate people to safety. ActionAid is coordinating support at cyclone shelters, ensuring families have access to food, medicine and separate areas for women and girls.
Local emergency teams are providing food support and hygiene supplies to 1,520 families in the most affected areas, including Borguna, Patuakhali and Bhola.
Before the cyclone hit, young ActionAid volunteers disinfected and prepared 75 cyclone shelters, providing hand-washing facilities, sanitary towels in the cyclone shelters and masks and gloves, in coordination with local authorities.
Women leaders and young people are keeping communities up to date with information and awareness messages via text messages and have supported pregnant women to cyclone shelters.
ActionAid Bangladesh’s Farah Kabir adds:
"This latest extreme weather disaster to hit Bangladesh shows that we must find new ways to support people to recover and rebuild their livelihoods.
"ActionAid is calling on governments to ensure that climate resilience is built into long term Covid-19 response plans and poor countries must be supported by the global community to deal with rising climate impacts."
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Notes to editors:
ActionAid works with women and girls living in poverty. Our dedicated local staff are changing the world with women and girls. We are ending violence and fighting poverty so that all women, everywhere, can create the future they want.