By Robin Gomes
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his sadness at the loss of lives after the most powerful cyclone in over a decade ripped through the densely populated coastal areas of eastern India’s West Bengal and Odishas states, and Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon.
Cyclone Amphan packed rain and winds of up to 170 kph, with maximum gusts of 190 kph, when it crashed ashore, flooding vast areas.
The natural disaster further exacerbated the two nations’ battle against Covid-19, compromising efforts to maintain physical distancing.
In a brief statement on Saturday, Guterres’ spokesman Stèphane Dujarric said that the Secretary-General “is saddened by the loss of lives and destruction as a result of Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh”. “He extends his deep condolences to those who have lost their loved ones and wishes those injured and affected by the disaster a speedy recovery.”
Pre-emptive action and relief work
More than 3 million people were evacuated in both nations before Amphan made landfall, preventing a large number of deaths.
Guterres commended “the governments, first responders and communities for their pre-emptive work to make people safe ahead of the storm and to meet their immediate needs afterwards.” The UN chief also expressed solidarity with the people of India and Bangladesh as they face the impact of a devastating cyclone while also responding to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trail of destruction
According to West Bengal State officials, the cyclone has caused damage of USD13 billion to infrastructure and crops in seven districts.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, officials initially put the damage at USD130 million, saying it could rise.
The two countries have lost at least 102 people in the cyclone, mostly because of house collapses and electrocution.
The cyclone has affected more than 13 million people - some losing houses, crops and lands - and over 1.5 million houses have been damaged, two West Bengal government officials said.
In West Bengal State capital, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), authorities struggled to remove debris from roads and clear trees that fell as rain and winds of 133 kmh pounded the city of 14 million for hours.
On Friday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a USD132 million emergency relief package to West Bengal, after travelling to the region to survey the damage.
Cyclone compounds COVID-19 crisis
Hundreds of thousands are in relief camps across West Bengal and Bangladesh amid fear that lax social distancing norms could fuel a spread of coronavirus cases.
In Bangladesh, there are currently more than 35,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 500 deaths. Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA), said on Friday the government had evacuated around two million people before the storm hit.
The country had more than 12,000 cyclone shelters set up with Covid-19 prevention equipment, including masks, sanitizers, soap and handwashing facilities.