How it Could Have Been a Lot Worse
Cyclone Fani, that made landfall in Bangladesh on 3rd May, 2019 is the latest example of what could have been catastrophic, if Bangladesh had not made large strides towards disaster preparation in the past few years. Thanks to comprehensive, robust prevention and management measures that are more and more common, akin to the work done by Friendship, the damage and loss of life has reduced dramatically from past decades.
Friendship has been working in Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Management for years, as soon after the organization was founded, it was apparent that for marginalized communities, climate change is a matter of life and death. The rise in sea levels, or the increasing unpredictability of tropical storms endanger millions on isolated chars and coastal areas of the country, and threaten their livelihoods.
To better manage disasters, Friendship’s Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Management sector has developed a standard operating procedure that outlines the duties and responsibilities of each individual and sector in the organization during an emergency.
A pre-determined “communication tree” informs each employee who they should go to in any given situation. Going from the community level the head office, this tree defines the persons and communications channels that will be handling the disaster response in each working area.
Emergency response teams are formed beforehand and are activated as soon as there is a threat of disaster. This coordination also extends out from the local to the national level, involving all the expertise at hand.
When a cyclone is approaching, the cyclone shelter committee is reactivated, and staff are co-opted as needed. On the night that Fani made landfall, our shelter at Kuakata took in approximately 400 people. All but 50 were women and children, 45 of whom were below five years of age. The local government spontaneously got involved, and donated food provisions to the shelter.
The upazila government in Shyamnagar co-opted Friendship staff to man their control centre, wishing to utilise his expertise and experience.
Our search and rescue teams fanned out all over the danger zone, to retrieve anyone in distress, and were active till the threat level subsided. Water from our treatment plants was distributed to people in Shyamnagar.
In Mongla, we distributed 32 emergency kits containing candles, fireboxes and mosquito coils to a shelter, and to Cyclone Preparedness Program volunteers. Therefore, within the span of a weekend, every measure available was taken to reduce the damage and loss of life to the people in the danger zone of Cyclone Fani.
Cyclone Fani did not have the kind of destructive impact that, for example, Sidr did in years past, however its slow progression over Bangladesh’s south caused significant tidal surges which have lasting damage. Embankments in the area, particularly Shyamnagar and Asusani were destroyed, allowing water logging to occur and thereby salinate land meant for agriculture.
In Shyamnagar, despite efforts, there was still a fatality and 12 injuries, along with 25 acres of agricultural land lost. Some 22,590 people were affected in some form or the other by the storm. In Kalapara more than 25,000 people were affected.
With windspeeds up to 90 km/h at landfall, Fani made its way across Khulna and Rajshahi, then into Assam in India, leaving behind 13,000 homes partially or wholly destroyed; 52,728 acres of arable land ruined; and sadly, 14 deaths. Even though these numbers are nowhere near as high as in times past, it is still something that could have been avoided, with further measures for adaptation and preparedness.