Cyclone toll hits 84 as Bangladesh and India start mopping up

An aerial view shows volunteers and residents working to fix a damaged dam following the landfall of cyclone Amphan in Burigoalini on May 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2020

Cyclone toll hits 84 as Bangladesh and India start mopping up

  • The UN office in Bangladesh estimates 10 million people were affected, and some 500,000 people may have lost their homes

SATKHIRA: India and Bangladesh began a massive clean-up Thursday after the fiercest cyclone since 1999 killed at least 84 people, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Cyclone Amphan flattened houses, uprooted trees, blew off roofs and toppled electricity pylons, while a storm surge inundated coastal villages and wrecked shrimp farms vital to the local economy.
The United Nations office in Bangladesh estimates 10 million people were affected, and some 500,000 people may have lost their homes.
But the death toll was far lower than the many thousands killed in previous cyclones — a result of improved weather forecasting and better response plans.
The disaster has raised fears, however, that overcrowding in storm shelters will exacerbate the spread of coronavirus.
India’s West Bengal reported 72 deaths — including 14 in the capital Kolkata — with state premier Mamata Banerjee saying: “I haven’t seen a disaster of this magnitude.”
In Bangladesh, the official death toll was 12.

Improved weather forecasting meant Bangladesh was able to move some 2.4 million people into shelters or out of the storm’s direct path, while India evacuated some 650,000.
At least 10 million people were still without power on Thursday afternoon in the worst-hit districts of Bangladesh, said Moin Uddin, the head of the rural electricity board.
“Huge number of electricity poles fell down after it was lashed by the cyclone, or they were hit by huge number of fallen trees. Transformers, conductors and meters were also destroyed,” he told AFP.
Residents of Kolkata woke to flooded streets, with the city’s signature yellow taxis up to their bonnets in water in one neighborhood.
“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” premier Banerjee said. “Thousands of mud huts have been levelled, trees uprooted, roads washed away and crops destroyed.”
Other officials said they were waiting for damage reports from the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove area that is home to endangered Bengal tigers and which bore the brunt of the storm.
“We are particularly concerned over some wild animals. They can be washed away during a storm surge in high tide,” forest chief Moyeen Uddin Khan told AFP.
The cyclone weakened as it moved north through Bangladesh but still unleashed heavy rain and fierce winds in Cox’s Bazar, the district which houses about one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
The UN said that the effect in the vast camps of flimsy shacks appeared to be “fairly minimal.”
The area most affected by Amphan, the first “super cyclone” to form over the Bay of Bengal since 1999, was the Satkhira district of south-west Bangladesh.
There a storm surge — a wall of ocean water that is often one of the main killers in major weather systems — roared inland and destroyed embankments protecting villages and shrimp farms.
In the village of Purba Durgabati, hundreds of locals worked through the night to mend a breach in a levee, but to no avail. Some 600 homes and thousands of shrimp farms were hit.
“My home has gone under water. My shrimp farm is gone. I don’t know how I am going to survive,” Omar Faruq, 28, told AFP.
“The coronavirus has already taken a toll on people. Now the cyclone has made them paupers,” said local councillor Bhabotosh Kumar Mondal.
The last super cyclone in 1999 left nearly 10,000 dead in India’s Odisha state, eight years after a typhoon, tornadoes and flooding killed 139,000 in Bangladesh.
This time, as during a cyclone in Odisha last year, the human cost was greatly lessened thanks to the evacuations, said Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management.
“Only several people died. The majority of them ventured out to collect fallen mangoes during the storm,” Rahman told AFP.
Natural disaster expert Nayeem Wahra, at the Disaster Forum think-tank, said the storm also lost some of its potency over the Bay of Bengal before it made landfall .
“The storm surge was not powerful or high enough to cause extensive damage to lives or properties,” Wahra told AFP.
“Bangladesh was largely spared.”
Packing people into shelters, however, raised the risk of coronavirus spreading, with cases still surging in both India and Bangladesh.
Authorities said they extended shelters to reduce crowding, while also insisting everyone wore face masks.
Many, however, chose to stay at home and face the storm rather than risk being infected.
“We fear the cyclone but we also fear the coronavirus,” said Sulata Munda, a villager in Bangladesh who refused to go to a shelter.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”