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Bangladesh rushes aid to victims of deadly cyclone

Authorities play down extent of destruction but Caritas says impact was 'monstrous'

Bangladesh rushes aid to victims of deadly cyclone

A woman searches for her belongings through what remains of her house in the village of Bakkhali after Cyclone Bulbul swept through the coastal regions of India and Bangladesh on Nov. 9. (Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

Catholic charity Caritas is among aid agencies to join the Bangladesh government in rushing aid to affected areas after a deadly cyclone hit the country's southern coastal region.

Cyclone Bulbul, which formed at the Bay of Bengal, struck coastal areas of Bangladesh and India on the night of Nov. 9.

As the storm made landfall with winds of up to 120kph (75mph), it triggered a tidal surge up to five feet high and torrential rain, which together inundated coastal towns and villages, according to the Meteorological Department.

The disaster left 20 people dead — eight in Bangladesh and 12 in the Indian state of West Bengal — and hundreds injured, mostly from falling trees and electric poles and crushed houses.

The Dhaka Tribune newspaper reported that the cyclone left a trail of devastation along the coast, with more than 50,000 houses destroyed, 31,000 hectares of cropland flattened, numerous trees uprooted and about 6,720 fish enclosures washed away.

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The death toll was lower than it might have been as Bangladeshi authorities evacuated 2.1 million people to some 5,000 cyclone shelters, and the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, once again took the brunt of the storm, said Dr. Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief.

“The cyclone weakened after hitting the Sundarbans. The forest has suffered severe damage and again saved us from further destruction,” Rahman said.

The government has allocated emergency food and cash aid to affected areas, said Iftekharul Islam, director of relief operations in the disaster management department.

“We have yet to assess the exact damage caused by the cyclone but we have already allocated 2,300 metric tons of rice and cash of 4.5 million taka (US$53,000) as emergency aid support for victims in up to 15 affected districts,” Islam told ucanews.

Damage 'not adequately reported'

A more downbeat note was sounded by Daud Jibon Das, regional director of Caritas Khulna, which covers the coastal region. He said the cyclone had caused much more damage than media reports suggested.

“Our visit to the affected areas and images captured show that the storm was monstrous and caused heavy damage in coastal areas,” Das told ucanews.

“The media has not adequately reported on the damage, largely because the loss of lives was low, thanks to early warning and preparations.”

Before the cyclone struck, Caritas volunteers joined the government and other aid groups in evacuating some 200,000 people to 47 Caritas-built cyclone centers in the region.

Caritas had for two days been offering aid, including food, drinking water and medicines, to about 5,000 victims, Das said, adding: “Following our assessment, we will focus on the rebuilding of houses as thousands of people have lost their homes, and we will also see what we can do to compensate for loss of livelihoods.”

Bangladesh is a low-lying country and on its floodplains are hundreds of rivers that empty into the Bay of Bengal.

This unique geography makes the country’s agricultural land fertile but also vulnerable to natural disasters like cyclones, flooding, tidal surges and river erosion, which kill people and destroy livelihoods every year.

Climate scientists believe the frequency and intensity of these occurrences have increased in countries along the Bay of Bengal basin over the past decades due to the impact of climate change.  

In addition, they warn that a predicted one-meter sea level rise due to global warming and polar iceberg melting might wipe away Bangladesh’s entire coastline and displace about 20 million people by 2050.

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