Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

It’s been two months since Cyclone Amphan slammed into the coastal areas of north eastern India and south Bangladesh, and Red Cross Red Crescent teams continue to support thousands of people affected. The strongest storm recorded in the Bay of Bengal in more than a century, Amphan formed on 16 May over the Indian Ocean and started moving north toward India. By 19 May, the storm had intensified into a super cyclone and made landfall in Kolkata on 20 May packing winds of up to 150kmph and torrential rain. Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, food and water sources were compromised, and essential livelihoods undermined, all under the threatening shadow of COVID-19. 

Credit: India Red Cross Society

Nearly 3 million people in both India and Bangladesh evacuated their homes to pre-identified shelters before the cyclone hit, which helped save countless lives. After slamming into the Indian coastal districts of West Bengal and Odisha, Cyclone Amphan entered Bangladesh and cut a path of destruction across 26 districts. The disaster has placed further strain on both countries as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, including the measures that have been put in place to curb the risk of further outbreaks.

Credit: India Red Cross Society

In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, India Red Cross was running kitchens to provide food to people in evacuation centres, and since then teams have been distributing more than 8,500 tarpaulins to people with damaged homes. Even before the cyclone hit, thousands of India Red Cross social emergency response volunteers and national disaster response members were on the ground helping people get to safer shelters.

Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

In Bangladesh, approximately 2.6 million people have been affected. More than 260,000 homes, plus hundreds of kilometres of road and embankment were damaged or destroyed; more than 50,000 thousand hectares of crops, vegetables, and fish cultivation were damaged. Moreover around 50,000 latrines and water points have also been damaged. This has undermined access to clean water, food, income and shelter for communities already dealing with the threat of COVID-19.

Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

IFRC released more than 619,000 Swiss francs (638,000 US dollars) from its Disaster Relief and Emergency Fund to support Red Cross and Red Crescent preparedness activities in India and Bangladesh, as well as Myanmar, which was also originally in the cyclone’s path.

The forecast also triggered the release of funds from the IFRC’s Forecast based Action by the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support 20,000 vulnerable people in Bangladesh as they prepared for the cyclone to hit. The funding supported emergency dry food and drinking water, first aid, safety equipment, and transportation to cyclone shelters. as well as precautionary measures against COVID-19 through the disinfection of cyclone shelters and provision of sets of personal protective equipment.

Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society deployed more than 70,000 volunteers trained in first aid, search and rescue and disaster management, including 55,500 from the Cyclone Preparedness Programme, as well as volunteers from Red Crescent Youth, the communities and the camps in Cox’s Bazar. They disseminated early warning messages among some of the most vulnerable communities, including the camps for displaced people.

Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers distributed food to more than 36,000 people in evacuation centres, and provided more than 1,000 households with tarpaulins, shelter toolkits, hygiene parcels, water jerry cans and hand sanitisers. These essential household items had been pre-positioned by Bangladesh Red Crescent and IFRC to help ensure they could be distributed quickly and effectively to those who need them most.

Credit: India Red Cross Society

COVID-19 has reinforced the importance and value of localised response and community responders. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are local organisations led by local people – at national, branch and chapter levels – which means that teams can respond immediately. In India and Bangladesh, thousands of tarpaulins, shelter tool kits, hygiene parcels and dignity kits were pre positioned ahead of the cyclone so they could be quickly and effectively distributed after the worst of the storm had passed.

Credit: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

While it has now been two months since Cyclone Amphan hit, many people are still in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Some are living in makeshift shelters on embankments or staying with friends and relatives, with limited access to food and clean water and the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise. Heavy monsoon rains are causing even more flooding, compounding the risks to health, property and livelihoods. It is essential that people still dealing with the impact of Cyclone Amphan continue to have access to clean water, hygiene supplies, safe shelter and accurate information and supplies for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Red Cross and Red Crescent teams were some of the first to reach communities most affected by the cyclone and will continue to provide support to those who need it most.