Oxfam and partners responding after Cyclone Amphan hits areas suffering from COVID-19

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A woman in what is left of her home, destroyed by Cyclone Amphan, in the Purba Medinipur area of West Bengal, India. KJKS

Strongest storm on record in Bay of Bengal leaves widespread destruction.

Cyclone Amphan has left a trail of devastation throughout northeast India and the Bangladesh coast, with over 80 deaths reported so far, destroying homes, embankments and crops, and compounding the suffering in many communities already hit by coronavirus and the impact of the lockdown. Oxfam and our partners have already conducted a rapid assessment of the damage and needs, and are responding across the affected areas.

The low-lying coastal communities in both countries are among the worst hit by the strongest-ever cyclone recorded over the Bay of Bengal, which swept through the region late yesterday.

In Bangladesh, the situation in coastal districts is very grave, according to Oxfam’s Country Director Dipankar Datta.

Oxfam and its partners are helping provide food, shelter and clean water to communities and assessing the further support needed in many others. “Many homes have been destroyed and the cyclone has washed in salty water, contaminating the land and water sources. Our partners are distributing food to the most vulnerable and preparing to distribute safe drinking water and other essential items,” Datta says, adding that teams are taking extra precautions to slow the spread of coronavirus may be also slowing the response, but adds that “we know these precautions are vital.”

Oxfam is providing water and sanitation and increasing hygiene awareness to 173,000 people in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, and 9,000 people in the surrounding community. It also helping almost 400,000 people in the coastal districts.

While Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh was spared the worst of the cyclone’s impact, flooding in the densely populated camps has sparked fears of mudslides. Almost one million Rohingya refugees live in shelters on muddy hillsides. There are also concerns about the growing number of coronavirus cases in the camps.

In the low-lying coastal areas in Bangladesh, Oxfam has also prepared desalination plants to provide safe drinking water as fresh water sources have now been contaminated by the storm surge.  Salty water destroys crops and causes health problems.

Aysha, a 55-year-old mother from a small coastal village in Barguna, Bangladesh spent the night in a cyclone shelter. "In the shelter, there were so many people and it was really hard to maintain social distance,” she told Oxfam staff, adding that she was less focused on what the storm was doing to her home while in the shelter. “I was more worried about the possibility of my family members getting infected by the virus.”

Triple crisis in India

Oxfam’s Director of Programs and Humanitarian Response Pankaj Anand, says that people in India are facing “a triple crisis with the cyclone, coronavirus, and economic devastation completely intertwined.”

“Many people already had no savings left having lost their jobs or vital remittances due to lockdown. There are now no jobs in the cities and in the villages farms and crops have been destroyed due to the cyclone. People have nothing to fall back on.”

Oxfam and its partners have teams in the affected villages assessing where safe drinking water and food is most urgently needed. In some places the response has already started while in others distribution will start as soon as possible.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus during the cyclone response, Oxfam has helped distribute masks, provide handwashing facilities, and disinfect cyclone shelters.

Oxfam India is working across 14 states to help five million people with hygiene training and over one million people with food during the coronavirus lockdown migration.

“The evacuation was successful in saving many lives,” says Anand. “The challenge now is ensuring that people have the food and support they need to survive and get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

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