More than three million people from villages along the Bay of Bengal were evacuated to safety before the deadly storm tore through, destroying homes and farmland, uprooting trees, and flattening electricity poles.
ActionAid’s volunteer response teams, led by local women, worked in close collaboration with local authorities to evacuate people to safety. ActionAid is coordinating support at cyclone shelters, ensuring families have access to food, medicine and separate areas for women and girls.
Debabrat Patra, ActionAid India’s Associate Director and humanitarian response lead, said social distancing is not possible in the crowded cyclone shelters.
“Many lives were saved by evacuating people to cyclone shelters, but the worry now is that coronavirus will spread rapidly,” he said.
“Communities are already reeling from battling the COVID-19 crisis. The poorest and most marginalised, migrant workers and others in informal, daily wage jobs, will now be facing even greater loss of livelihood.”
A new case of COVID-19 was confirmed the day after the cyclone in Pathorghata bazar, Bangladesh, one of the areas most affected by the storm.
Before the cyclone hit, ActionAid volunteers disinfected and prepared cyclone shelters in coordination with local authorities.
Women leaders are keeping communities up to date with information and awareness messages via SMS and leading distribution of basic necessities such as food and hygiene supplies to affected communities where many are still recovering from Cyclones Bulbul and Fani last year.
Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh said health check-ups, public health awareness and hygiene materials must be part of the emergency response, alongside the protection of women’s rights.
“Violence against women and girls increases during humanitarian crises and disease outbreaks. Women’s protection and leadership must be central to response plans and it is vital that women and girls have access to safe shelter,” she said.
ActionAid Australia’s Executive Director, Michelle Higelin said as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of disasters countries with high levels of poverty are bearing the brunt of a crisis they did the least to cause.
“This latest climate-related disaster in the Bay of Bengal, just weeks after Cyclone Harold hit the Pacific, highlights the urgent need to support people to rebuild their livelihoods, and women must be a priority to avoid a deepening of gender inequality and poverty,” she said.
“ActionAid is calling on governments to ensure that climate resilience is built into long term COVID-19 response plans and for the global community, including Australia, to step up and resource low income countries to respond to rising climate impacts.”
For interviews and images, please contact: Liz Pick, ActionAid Australia’s Media and Communications Manager on +61 (0)422 105 840 or [email protected]