Bangladesh – a country with one of the highest rates of vulnerability to disasters and extreme weather event is a major rea of discussion for climate change related experts, academicians and development practitioners. After the devastating cyclone Amphan, which left several coastal districts shattered in May, 2020; numerous studies, reports and articles have been published – focusing not only on the after effects of the disaster but also on solutions, what is working and what is not and how to do better.
Cyclone Amphan left the affected people in despair as many lost their households and livelihood with little opportunity to recover; and the sufferings are still continuing. Last year in May, to look back on the one year anniversary of cyclone Amphan, Climate Tribune published a special issue with nine articles focusing on the untold stories from the ground and the sufferings that remained pertinent long after.
The April 2021 special issue highlighted the destruction and long-term effects left by cyclone Amphan in the coastal region of Bangladesh. The affected people were forced to leave home and migrate in search of work and food, as many villages were submerged, damaging households and agricultural land. After migrating, these people had to change their professions to work as rickshaw or van-pullers and leave their farming days behind – triggering mental health issues due to a loss of identity.
Following the damages, many of these people had to take loans either to repair and rebuild houses or to migrate to new settlements which in turn threw them in debt burden.
While these are some of the linear effects of cyclones in general, cyclone Amphan also came at a time when the whole world was struggling with COVID19 and Bangladesh was no exception. It led to additional challenges that the country struggled to cope with during the recovery phase. A more concentrated area of the effect of cyclone Amphan and other previous cyclones, as came out in the issue, is the water crisis.
The coastal regions had to face a severe drinking water crisis as the areas were inundated by saline water after the cyclone. Even though technology such as pond sand filtration (PSF) is available – required follow ups, repairments and maintenance is a major lacking. On top of that, people were unable to collect water from far or other villages due to the lockdown situation – showing the compound challenges that became evident in 2020.
While the issue evidently showed the gloomy side of cyclone Amphan, it also highlighted several success stories and potential way forward to tackle disasters like this more effectively in future. For example, Bangladesh has achieved great progress in minimizing cyclone-related deaths and injuries during the last 30 years. The country made significant progress in the early warning system, recruitment of trained volunteers (CPP), the number of cyclone shelters, and increasing institutional capacity. However, there is a lot of space left for improvement; especially in terms of reducing the loss and damage to livelihoods.
One way to do this is to build several cyclone resistant houses instead of constructing one cyclone shelter – in order to reduce the need to travel far and accommodate more affected people. Early warning systems also need to be translated and delivered to the communities in simplified languages for them to understand and prepare accordingly.
Another important way forward is to empower local communities and engage them in disaster risk reduction programs such as putting local governments and communities in control of coastal embankment maintenance. Awareness building is a major part of disaster preparedness, and a unique way to do this is by adapting traditional storytelling methods – as highlighted in the issue. Pattachitra song – a traditional and popular medium among local people was used as a tool to explain pre-, during and post-disaster activities through a project. This proved to be a success as the local people easily understood and listened with more attention than in conventional awareness raising campaigns.
The issue portrayed the overall scenario – from showing the lingering struggles and challenges from cyclones to emphasizing on the positive changes and suggesting ways that can serve as a template for not only development practitioners but also government officials and policy decision-makers.
Cyclone Amphan should be treated as an eye opener and foreshadowing of what is to come. The twin challenges of COVID19 and cyclone Amphan showed what a multifaceted and complex chain of disasters looks like – which has the potential to become more regular in the days to come. Furthermore, climate change is evidently contributing to an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones. Countries like Bangladesh are at the front line of some of the worst impacts of climate change; coastal communities that rely on agriculture and fishing are particularly heavily hit and forced to displace.
After cyclone Amphan, the country was again devastated by cyclone Yaas last year which had a direct effect on 1.5 million people and 26,000 houses were destroyed in several districts. To reduce livelihood loss and damage, collaborative effort by the government, NGOs, humanitarian and local level organizations, community leaders, as well as the private sector is vital. Moreover, climate induced loss and damage in vulnerable countries also needs to be a major point of discussion in the global platforms to avail necessary finance required to make climate resilient developments and ensure actual climate justice.
Originally this article was published on February 14, 2022 at Climate Tribune.
Samina Islam is working as Junior Research Officer at International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Her research interest is in climate and environmental policies, climate change adaptation, climate migration and displacements.