20 May 2020, India: Cyclone Amphan, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Bay of Bengal in decades, is bearing down on a region already battling to contain COVID-19, threatening efforts to curb the virus and potentially destroying the lives and homes of millions of children and their families.
Cyclone Amphan is moving at 220-230 km per hour and is due to hit the coast of West Bengal state in northeast India near Kolkata, tomorrow, bringing with it a likely storm surge, rains and winds that will also severely impact neighbouring Bangladesh. It is forecast to be the strongest cyclone since the 1999 super cyclone that hit Odisha, and which recorded winds up to 260 km per hour. Up to 33.6 million people in India could be affected by the storm, while an estimated 5.3 million could be exposed in Bangladesh.
International humanitarian agency World Vision says the cyclone could not have come at a worse time. India is currently organising the world’s largest lockdown to contain COVID-19. Bangladesh, which is home to the world’s largest refugee camp of 859,000 Rohingya, is also at risk from the storm fallout, with heavy rains expected.
Cherian Thomas, Regional Leader for South Asia & Pacific, World Vision, said: “We are dealing with a double crisis -- a deadly pandemic coupled with an extreme cyclone. Millions of people are now being evacuated into cyclone shelters where social distancing measures will be extremely challenging to enforce. This will put people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. It will also mean that displaced people will have even less access to medical services given that healthcare systems are already struggling to cope with the pandemic.”
COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in India with over 101,000 confirmed cases and 23,000 cases in Bangladesh. World Vision has extensive COVID-19 response operations in both countries.
Thomas also warned that lockdown restrictions may make it challenging for aid agencies to respond to the cyclone’s devastation. However, World Vision humanitarian workers are on standby in Bangladesh and India to support government efforts to respond. Emergency supplies, including food, water and hygiene kits, are prepositioned and ready for distribution. In Bangladesh, staff are providing evacuation centres with dry rations and water while working with local authorities to alert communities via mass media of the impending landfall and reminding them to maintain socially distancing.
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh -- home to the world’s most densely populated refugee camp -- World Vision is concerned about potential wind and rain damage to thousands of hillside makeshift shelters. World Vision’s team of 500 staff and refugee volunteers are alerting communities while working quickly to protect food supplies and water sources in the camps.
For media inquiries, contact:
Pradeep Daniel, Communications and Public Engagement, Asia Pacific, World Vision International (based in India)
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