A massive “super cyclone” is bearing down on eastern India and western Bangladesh, threatening the safety of millions.
Although Cyclone Amphan slowed to a Category 4-equivalent storm on Monday evening, according to the Washington Post – earlier in the day, it had reached Category 5-level winds – it still has the potential to cause widespread, severe damage in two countries already battling coronavirus.
Like Hurricane Dorian, which caused catastrophic destruction in the Bahamas last year, Amphan is a slow-moving storm, capable of causing massive flooding, and severe winds.
The last super-cyclonic storm to hit the region, more than 20 years ago, killed over 9,000 people.
The storm is expected to move across the Bay of Bengal and to make landfall on Wednesday morning, destroying crops and houses, and causing extensive flooding and power outages, although it will have weakened somewhat by then.
Health officials and aid groups have warned that Covid-19 will complicate the situation as people evacuate and find shelter, making social distancing harder to maintain. More than 100,000 cases of the disease have been reported in India, and about 25,000 in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is famously low-lying, with densely populated coastal areas already prone to storms and flooding. Last week, the first Covid-19 cases were announced in the refugee camps where more than 1 million displaced Rohingyas currently make their home.
Heavy rains and possible flooding are expected in the Rohingya refugee camps, which were affected by landslides last year.
India is preparing to evacuate more than 1 million people, and has identified more than 500 shelters and 7,000 homes to accommodate the displaced, according to the Guardian. The country has been under strict lockdown since March 24, a situation that has already strained the livelihoods of many of India’s residents living in poverty.
Many of those who had returned from urban centers to villages to quarantine will now be displaced, protecting them from the storm but increasing their chances of transmission.
The megacity of Kolkata, with a population of more than 14 million people, is also threatened by the storm.
Direct Relief’s emergency response team is communicating with partners on the ground and preparing a donation for rapid response. The team will continue to monitor the situation and offer support as needed.
To help contain the spread of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, Direct Relief has already provided a shipment of Covid-19 supplies to the organization HOPE for Bangladesh and made an emergency grant of $40,000 to support the establishment of an isolation center for Rohingya refugees.
Chris Alleway contributed reporting to this story.