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Cyclone Amphan throws Bangladeshi villagers into despair

The devastating storm has blown away the households and livelihoods of thousands of poor people

Cyclone Amphan throws Bangladeshi villagers into despair

A woman is seen at her flooded home in Khulna district after Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh's coastal region. (Photo courtesy of Sony Ratna)

Amina Begum is still grieving for her family’s huge loss a week after deadly Cyclone Amphan lashed the coastal region of Bangladesh.

Begum, 43, is a housewife and Muslim mother of three from the Munshiganj area of Shyamnagar in Satkhira district, near the Sundarbans mangrove forest and one of the worst-hit areas.

She and her husband, a fisherman, survived the ire of the storm by taking refuge in a cyclone shelter on May 20, but their household and belongings have been wiped out.

They found their small farm with 100 ducks and 150 hens had vanished, while one of their two mud-walled houses was completely destroyed.

Begum started the farm with a loan of 20,000 taka (US$235) from a local NGO, and she has been paying back 2,000 taka in weekly installments, which has become a burden for the family after the cyclone.

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“My husband doesn’t earn much from fishing, so eggs from ducks and hens were our main source of income. Now we are penniless and hopeless. I am so tense that I can’t sleep well at night,” Begum told UCA News.

Moreover, she is extremely worried about the future of her two schoolgoing children as the family can no longer pay for them.

“We are surviving with food aid from local NGOs for now. Without substantial support from the government and NGOs, we cannot stand on our own feet again,” she said.

When the dykes broke

Suren Das, 36, a Hindu farmer and fish farm owner from the Dacope area of neighboring Khulna district, is also reeling from a double blow of losses.

As the head of a six-member family, he earned a living from a small fish farm and a rice field.

“Cyclone Amphan has washed away my fish farm and destroyed the paddy of my field. Altogether I have a loss of 300,000 taka. I am extremely worried about how I can survive with my family now,” Das told UCA News.

Amphan was most destructive storm that Das can remember. He witnessed huge cyclones such as Sidr (2007), Aila (2009) and Bulbul (2019), but Amphan was the strongest and most devastating.

“The tidal surge triggered by the storm smashed riverbank dykes and hundreds of families have been waterlogged. They have lost everything,” he said.

Das alleged that due to corruption there have been insufficient efforts to improve riverbank dykes and dams, leaving coastal communities more vulnerable to natural disasters.

A man tries to salvage belongings from his devastated home in Khulna district. (Photo courtesy of Sony Ratna)

Amphan’s trail of destruction

Cyclone Amphan was as strong as a category 5 hurricane and one of the biggest storms originating in the Bay of Bengal in decades, with wind speeds of 160kph when it made landfall on May 20.

It wreaked havoc in coastal areas of India and Bangladesh. It killed 86 in India, mostly in West Bengal state, and 24 died in Bangladesh.

West Bengal’s government said that 13 million people were affected, and some 1 million homes destroyed. The cyclone also damaged about 100,000 acres crops and killed up to one million livestock in nine affected districts.

The cyclone has affected 26 coastal districts of Bangladesh and caused damage costing 11 billion taka, according to Enamur Rahman, state minister of disaster management and relief.

About 50,000 homes were completely destroyed and another 167,000 homes were partially damaged, according to government data.

Each of the affected districts has been provided with food relief, 500 bundles of tins and 1.5 million taka on an emergency basis, and rehabilitation would start once the assessment is complete, the minister said.

Cyclone Amphan has pushed thousands of people into extreme poverty, said Sumon Malaker, a program officer with Catholic charity Caritas Khulna who is based in Shyamnagar of Satkhira district.

Thousands of people have become homeless and hopeless and about 2,000 families are still stranded due to flooding.

Caritas has offered emergency food and pure drinking water to cyclone victims, and it is conducting a needs assessment on the ground as well as discussions with donor agencies for funding. 

“Due to frequent natural disasters, people in coastal region are mostly poor who live hand to mouth. These people were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and now the cyclone has pushed them to the brink. It will take years for them to recover from the added pain and misery,” Malaker told UCA News.

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