Laura Cook, All We Can’s Communications Manager and Humanitarian Aid Coordinator, reports on Cyclone Fani from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
I look out of my window this morning expecting a change in the weather, but the sun is beating down on southern Bangladesh in the same way it has done all week long. The only clue that a powerful cyclone will soon be tracking near Cox’s Bazar are the men on the roof opposite my hotel tying down building supplies and gathering up loose objects.
Preparedness in India
Cyclone Fani is expected to cause extensive destruction in northeastern India today and nearly a million people were evacuated ahead of landfall. One of All We Can’s trusted local partners in Odisha State has spent the week carrying out a cyclone preparedness programme in the villages it works in. In the context of our work in India, while national media messages are important, door-to-door and community interactions ahead of a potential disaster are vital in ensuring the most vulnerable are helped to prepare for the worst. All We Can has been working this year with its local partners in India to develop a more robust approach to organising action ahead of an emergency. Community preparedness can save lives.
The local organisation All We Can works with in Odisha, has also been helping the communities they support to protect important documents and belongings. Documents are being zipped up in plastic bags and food supplies put in places where the rains associated with a cyclone won’t destroy them.
A disaster within a disaster in Bangladesh
Once Cyclone Fani makes landfall today in India, it is then expected to move north-eastward and gradually weaken over West Bengal and Bangladesh this weekend. Fani is forecast to track near to Cox’s Bazar, where more than a million Rohingya refugees live in camps after fleeing violence and persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
In Bangladesh, the cyclone is unlikely to cause the same kind of destruction so sadly forecasted for Odisha State in India. However, the majority of the Rohingya refugees still live in flimsy and fragile homes made of tarpaulin and bamboo because of restrictions put in place on building in the camps. All We Can, and many of the other charities working in the refugee camps, have supported cyclone preparedness training, emergency drills and have, where possible, helped refugees better weather-proof their homes. However, all of this will be inadequate in protecting people should a deadly tropical cyclone barrel up the Bay of Bengal without making landfall elsewhere first. The fact is people have nowhere to escape and their flimsy shelters illustrate the fragility and vulnerability of a million people living in close confines in a refugee situation.
This week I have had the privilege of witnessing the care, compassion and hard work of staff and volunteers in the camps. Yesterday, in the women’s safe spaces that All We Can supports, staff were instructing women on how to prepare for the storm. Ropes on homes were being tightened, tarpaulins secured and belongings placed higher and in dry places. The women were being encouraged to seek shelter in the safest buildings in their areas of the camp. But, for the staff and for the Rohingya community, Cyclone Fani acts as a powerful reminder of their vulnerable situation. One caseworker said, “Here it is not ideal at all. People are living in very poor circumstances. A cyclone could be devastating but even heavy rain is a threat. These camps are prone to landslides and people are worried here.”
The tragic reality is, that unless there is (a desperately needed) political solution to this crisis, lives here are in peril. I am proud though to witness the commitment of my colleagues to providing spaces that give some dignity and basic comfort to the Rohingya people. The sprawling camps of Cox’s Bazar have taught me about the consequences of human brutality and conflict but they have also shown me some of the most incredible acts of kindness and love.
This year’s humanitarian aid picture has already been one dominated by the impact of cyclones. Cyclone Idai devastating communities in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March and more recently Cyclone Kenneth and now Cyclone Fani causing flooding and wind damage in Mozambique and South Asia respectively.
Tropical cyclones, like Fani, form over warm ocean waters and then dissipate after making landfall. The formation of a cyclone is fundamentally from it drawing power from water evaporating from the ocean. This water provides moisture and heat energy that fuels the cyclone. The warmer the water then the faster that water evaporates, resulting in more severe storms. While cyclones have always existed, this relationship between warmer water and more cyclones speaks to the role of global warming in intensifying storms. You cannot attribute individual storms or cyclones to human-made climate change, but the overall picture is one of more storms with more severity, affecting more of the world’s poorest people.
Scientists speaking on Bangladeshi news this morning said something that sums up my own thinking well – climate change is not often the genesis of individual extreme weather events, but it exacerbates the existing problems. And it is some of the most vulnerable in our world who are already experiencing the brunt of climate change.
All We Can is working hard with communities living in fragile climates to create more resilience to hazardous weather events like cyclones, flooding and drought. As I sit safely seeing out the storm tonight in my hotel room in Bangladesh I will be praying for those who do not have that privilege. I will be praying for those in the camps here in Bangladesh. I will be praying for those sheltering in their villages in Odisha, India. I invite you to pray with me.
We pray for all of those communities affected by Cyclone Fani
We bring before you the families in India who are currently facing the storm
We ask for protection of lives, homes and livelihoods
Be also with the Rohingya refugees, when the storm passes through Bangladesh
We pray that in all areas the damage is minimal and people are safe
As All We Can’s local partner organisations work in these areas that are affected, bring them strength and wisdom
May the support provided be available to those in greatest need during this desperate time.