Tropical Cyclones in Bangladesh Monsoon season in the Bay of Bengal usually lasts from June to September and can be characterized by sudden, violent downpours of torrential rain. These heavy rains are integral to the climate and culture of this part of the world, but can also pose a threat to lives and infrastructure when storms become severe. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh, monsoon rains and cyclones can trigger landslides on the steep, uneven ground. These landslides have become increasingly deadly in recent years. Substantial landslides in the second half of the 20th century typically recorded few to no deaths. This changed by the turn of the century: in the 2007 and 2017 landslides, 136 and 170 people died, respectively. Landslides in Bangladesh are becoming deadlier and the government must take measures to prevent further loss of life.

Rapid and Unplanned Urbanization

With an urbanization rate of 3.17 percent, Bangladesh has experienced a large amount of internal migration. People who seek better job and educational opportunities are moving to urban areas. Urbanization itself is not a bad thing, but problems can arise when local governments do not utilize appropriate city planning measures. For example, 21.3 percent of Bangladesh’s urban population lived below the poverty line in 2010, and 62 percent of the urban population lived in slums in 2009. These statistics reflect an inability to accommodate a quick, large influx of people.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, unplanned urbanization can be deadly. People seeking land in the area often end up settling on the hills just outside of urban centers. Building is supposed to be prohibited on these landslide-prone areas, but zoning is typically not enforced and people ignore the warnings. The Department of Energy found that there are about 2,000 families in the area currently at high risk.

Indigenous Displacement and Land Conflict

Land in the Chittagong Hill Tracts has a contentious history. Groups of indigenous people in Bangladesh have long fought for rights and protections that the federal government is reluctant to give. In the 1970s, an indigenous guerilla group launched an insurgency on settlers who were encroaching on their territory. The 1980s saw no more protection for indigenous lands, but a large influx of Bengali settlers moved to the area as part of a government-supported migration effort. Violence has since persisted between landless Bengali settlers building in the hills and indigenous communities who once called the area home.

Indigenous communities in Bangladesh suffer disproportionately from land conflicts and lack of governmental support. It is estimated that about 90,000 indigenous people were displaced as a result of the conflict, with many families setting up temporary structures on the steep and unstable slopes. Amnesty International has called on the Bangladeshi government to be more proactive in recognizing indigenous rights, but concrete progress on the issue remains evasive.

Increased Cost of Building Materials

Because many indigenous communities have lived in the Chittagong Hill Tracks for generations, they have the knowledge necessary to allow them to build homes that are less vulnerable to landslides in Bangladesh. Ideally, homes on these slopes would be stilted so that mud and water can pass underneath without causing damage. The increased cost of lightweight building material like bamboo, however, has recently made this practice much more expensive. When families cannot afford materials to stilt their homes, they are forced to build on the ground and in the path of landslides. These ground-level homes can also make the hills more unstable, as digging increases the amount of loose earth on the slopes.

Increased Storm and Monsoon Intensity

Monsoons have been changing in recent years. Increasingly, rain comes in powerful torrential downpours that may only last a few days but can dump as much water as would previously be recorded over the span of a month. This pattern is likely to increase the frequency of dangerous landslides as water has less time to seep into groundwater deposits.

Cyclones, known in North America as hurricanes, are single storm systems that form over the ocean and carry rain and wind to land along the coast. Only about 5 percent of the world’s tropical cyclones form over the Bay of Bengal. However, out of 10 cyclones that recorded very high loss of life, five were in Bangladesh. This statistic reflects the vulnerability of people living on the exposed hill tracts.

Measures Being Taken

Local governments have recently been more proactive about implementing storm warning and evacuation systems in vulnerable areas. Only 11 people died from landslides last year, which is significantly less than the 170 landslide fatalities in 2017. However, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts district, there are no official storm shelters. This means that during periods of evacuation, government-run buildings such as radio and TV stations must accommodate people fleeing their homes. These buildings sheltered about 4,000 people last year. Official storm shelters would be better equipped to handle the increasing number of people fleeing storm damage.

The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) is recommending that until more concrete preventative measures can be taken, schools and faith-based organizations should work to prepare and educate communities about the dangers of landslides in Bangladesh. If people living on the slopes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts cannot avoid landslides, they may have to learn how to adapt to them.

– Morgan Johnson
Photo: Flickr

10 Worst CyclonesThese top 10 worst cyclones in the world have devastated communities with lasting effects. A tropical cyclone is an intense spinning storm system with a low-pressure center that forms over warm water. All over the world, cyclones have created chaos and devastation. Once tropical cyclones develop sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour, they are classified as either hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones. The name of a tropical cyclone depends on the region in which they occur. Those that occur in the Eastern Pacific are hurricanes. Those that occur in Southeast Asia are typhoons. And those that occur in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific regions are cyclones. Here are the 10 worst cyclones in the world, from least to most severe.

10 Worst Cyclones in the World

  1. Bangladesh Cyclone of 1942 (Bangladesh, 1942)
    Coming in as the least severe of the list is the Bangladesh Cyclone of 1942. The cyclone struck the eastern coast of Bangladesh Oct. 16 with 70 miles per hour winds, causing a 20-foot storm surge. The cyclone led to the deaths of 61,000 people and destroyed at least 3,000 homes in the afflicted areas.
  2. Cyclone Nargis (Myanmar, 2008)
    On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Myanmar, moving across the southern region of the country over two days. Cyclone Nargis particularly devastated the Ayeyarwady Delta region of Myanmar. The United Nations approximated the cyclone affected 2.4 million people. As a result of the cyclone, 84,500 people died, and 53,800 went missing.
  3. Cyclone 02B (Bangladesh, 1991)
    Cyclone 02B, commonly referred to as the Bangladesh Cyclone of 1991, made landfall onto the southeastern coastal region of Chittagong on April 29, 1991. The cyclone devastated Bangladesh, killing more than 135,000 people, and rendering 10 million people homeless. Plus, one million cows died as a result of the cyclone. More importantly, the cyclone devastated the country’s crops. As a result, many survivors of the cyclone would end up facing a risk of starvation. Cyclone 02B resulted in more than $1.5 billion in damages.
  4. Chittagong Cyclone (Bangladesh, 1897)
    In 1897, the Chittagong Cyclone devastated the town of Chittagong in Bangladesh, killing 175,000 people, and destroying more than half of the buildings in town. Unlike some of the other cyclones on this list, there is not much data or news coverage available on the cyclone.
  5. Great Backerganj Cyclone (Bangladesh, 1876)
    Also known as the Bengal Cyclone of 1876, the cyclone occurred Oct. 31, 1876, in Bangladesh, leading to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people. Forming over the Bay of Bengal, the cyclone made landfall at the Meghna River Estuary. Combined with an already high tide, the Cyclone caused a 40-foot storm surge that devastatingly flooded low lying coastal areas. The high tide and storm surge made the effects of the Cyclone deadly in particular; an estimated 50 percent of deaths from the cyclone resulted from starvation and disease associated with the flooding.
  6. Backerganj Cyclone (Bangladesh, 1584)
    Occurring in 1584, the Backerganj Cyclone formed in the Bay of Bengal and struck Bangladesh. Creating destruction in Bangladesh, the cyclone caused an estimated 200,000 deaths.
  7. Coringa Cyclone (India, 1839)
    The port city of Coringa was struck by a disastrous cyclone Nov. 25, 1839. The cyclone brought heavy winds and produced a 40-foot storm surge, causing havoc throughout the city. The cyclone killed 300,000 people and completely demolished the port, destroying around 20,000 ships. Coringa has never fully recovered from the damage of the cyclone and is now a small village.
  8. Haiphong Cyclone (Vietnam, 1881)
    Next is the 1881 Haiphong Cyclone of Vietnam. On Oct. 8, 1881, the Haiphong Cyclone struck into the Gulf of Tonkin, setting off a course of tidal waves that flooded the Northeastern city of Haiphong. The flooding devastated Haiphong and led to the widespread destruction of the city. The Haiphong Cyclone led to an estimated 300,000 deaths. However, more are thought to have died afterward from starvation and disease, as a result of the flooding.
  9. Hooghly River Cyclone (India and Bangladesh, 1737)
    One of the deadliest natural disasters in all of history, the Hooghly River Cyclone, also known as the Calcutta Cyclone, devastated the Indian city of Calcutta, as well as the surrounding regions. The cyclone made landfall just south of Calcutta in the Ganges River Delta, creating a 30-40 foot storm surge, and bringing an approximated 15 inches of rain over six hours. The cyclone devastated the city of Calcutta, destroying the majority of buildings and structures, mostly made from wood and having straw roofs. Many existing brick structures were also damaged to a point beyond repair. The cyclone led to the deaths of 300,00 to 350,000 people. While most data focuses on Calcutta, it is also thought that villagers in East Bengal and Bangladesh died as a result of the cyclone. Additionally, the Hoogly River Cyclone destroyed 20,000 vessels.
  10. Great Bhola Cyclone (Bangladesh, 1970)
    The most severe cyclone on the list is the deadliest tropical cyclone ever, Great Bhola Cyclone. It completely devastated Pakistan (then East Pakistan). The cyclone started out as a depression in the Bay of Bengal Nov. 8, 1970, and quickly intensified into a tropical cyclone with 85 to 90 mile-per-hour winds by Nov. 11. The cyclone further intensified and moved north by November 12th, bringing with it 140 mile-per-hour winds and a 20-foot high storm surge. Unfortunately, while meteorologists did know of the impending cyclone, they had no way of notifying most people living within the islands of the Ganges River Delta and the coastal plain; thus, most people didn’t even know that it was coming. The cyclone killed between 300,000 to 500,000 people, making it the deadliest cyclone ever, as well as one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. The cyclone resulted in more than $490 million in damages, and 85 percent of homes were either damaged or destroyed.

These are the 10 worst cyclones to have occurred within recorded history. They are also among the deadliest natural disasters of all time and have created mass destruction. To this day, communities like Coringa, have yet to fully recover from the damages of the disaster. Hopefully, with the development of new technologies, more investment into foreign aid, and support for building more cyclone-resistant infrastructure, cyclones will be easier to track and people will be warned in advance.

– Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr

Cyclone Effects on Mozambican Students
Six weeks after Cyclone Idai ripped through central and southern Mozambique in March, Cyclone Kenneth added further destruction in the northern portion of the country. Having these consecutive disasters is highly abnormal in the region, and the impact of both storms has left over 650 people dead in Mozambique alone. Time Magazine reported that Mozambique would need $3.2 billion in order to recover after the damage caused by the storms.

The Cyclones

Mozambique is already a developmentally challenged country, suffering from high poverty rates due to high population growth, low agricultural productivity, illnesses and unequal distribution of wealth. These storms have left many citizens with nothing, further impoverishing the country. One of the most impactful yet overlooked aspects of the storms is the influence they have had and will continue to have over students. Cyclone effects on Mozambican students have made it difficult — and sometimes simply impossible — for the young population to continue their educations.

Impact on Students

More than 600 schools in Mozambique were damaged, impacting more than 300,000 students’ access to education. School records have been destroyed, roofs are missing from schools, and the water damage to classrooms is significant. School supplies have also been destroyed, meaning students have no access to notebooks, textbooks or writing utensils. Because of the damage to many classrooms, students are being forced to overcrowd classrooms, forcing multiple teachers to use the same room. This has proven to be highly distracting for students, and their focus is not fully on the content they are learning.

Along with schools being damaged and inadequate, other cyclone effects on Mozambican students come from the storms’ impact on their lives outside of school. With the devastation of the cyclones, many students come from families who have lost their homes, or even someone who had lived with them. As a result, children are unable to attend school, and both the ones who do and don’t attend school are suffering from lack of proper food and water — often going without either.

Additionally, the psychological toll that these storms have taken on kids has led to disruptions in their learning abilities. Many kids have seen the effects of the storms firsthand, having lost family members, neighbors and friends in the floods. School attendance rates are already low, with less than half of children under 15 fulfilling the country’s mandatory primary school program. That number decreases to less than 20 percent when it comes to high school attendance because many families cannot afford to pay school fees.

Aid Organizations

Various organizations have stepped up to provide relief and spread awareness about the disastrous effects of the storms, both in general and specifically for students. The Red Cross was among the first groups to arrive in areas of Mozambique severely affected, providing immediate aid to people in need. World Vision is another organization that has been active in its media coverage of what’s going on within Mozambique, in addition to its relief efforts. In Mozambique specifically, its focus is on providing food, water, child protection services and further education. It has also established two Child-Friendly spaces where kids are sheltered and given activities to do.

Save the Children, an organization based in the U.K., has consulted children and their families on their experiences with the storms. Affected children have shown varying sign of psychological stress, ranging from general anxiety that another storm will come to bedwetting. The organization has been in Mozambique since before the first cyclone made contact, and it has been providing child protection, emergency shelter and healthcare.

Overall, there is much to be done in terms of relief when it comes to Mozambique’s recovery. Much of the aid will go toward providing people with the essentials: food, water and shelter. However, attention should be paid particularly to the cyclone effects on Mozambican students. Access to education should be afforded to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status. Thankfully, there are a number of organizations that recognize that education needs to be prioritized in the aid they give.

— Emi Cormier
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cyclone Idai and Health Crisis
With winds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane and storm surges surpassing 20 feet, Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique in the early hours of March 15, 2019. One of the most powerful storms to ever hit Southern Africa, Idai left a trail of destruction and displacement, turning life upside down for residents along the coast. Now, months later, communities throughout the region continue to cope with the aftermath.

Effects of Cyclone Idai

What is now 2019’s deadliest weather event, the latest figures put Idai’s death toll at 847. The storm left millions of people affected, thousands displaced, entire communities in shambles and thousands of hectares of crops destroyed. As authorities continue to unpack the extent of the damage, the need for increased public health initiatives is evident. With the floods triggering widespread water contamination across the region, cholera and malaria outbreaks are becoming shockingly prevalent.

Perhaps Cyclone Idai afflicted Mozambique the most, where Reuters News reported that it killed nearly 600 people and destroyed more than 110,000 homes. In Beira, home to roughly 500,000 people, sweeping power outages and water contamination has made the city a hotbed for disease outbreaks. “The supply chain has been broken, creating food, clean water, and healthcare shortages,” says Gert Verdonck, the Emergency Coordinator for Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF) in Beira. “The scale of extreme damage will likely lead to a dramatic increase of waterborne diseases.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

Following the storm, MSF quickly scaled up operations in Beira and other cyclone-stricken areas of Mozambique. With roughly 146,000 internally displaced persons seeking refuge in 155 camps across the country, MSF has launched an enormous relief effort. Dispatching emergency response teams to communities in need, MSF is working to implement vaccination programs and distribute food, water and medical supplies throughout Mozambique. Yet the scope of the damage is proving to be a difficult challenge for authorities and relief organizations. Treating over 200 cholera cases daily, MSF is calling on the international community to step up.

The World Health Organization and Cholera Vaccines

Also integral to relief efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO) is spearheading a massive vaccination program aimed at fighting the recent outbreaks. Through partnerships with humanitarian aid organizations Gavi and UNICEF, the WHO facilitated a shipment of almost 1 million cholera vaccines that arrived in Beira on April 2, 2019. A day later, a plane carrying 6.7 tonnes of medical supplies – essentials like medicine, stretchers, clean bandages and disposable gloves – landed in the coastal city. Opening an additional 500 beds and seven cholera treatment centers across cyclone-stricken Mozambique, the WHO is hoping to stifle water-borne illnesses in the region.

Despite valiant efforts from the WHO, MSF and other aid groups, the need for more funds and resources is evident. On April 1, the WHO requested an additional US$13 million to address communities affected by Cyclone Idai. With local authorities in Mozambique overwhelmed and underequipped to handle the fallout from Idai, the WHO is seeking to lead the charge, establishing response coordination at the national and provincial levels. Annual health care and aid expenditures in Mozambique are almost five percent below the global average, making foreign aid and nongovernmental relief organizations a vital piece of the recovery process.

An International Response

While some experts initially criticized the sluggish international response to Cyclone Idai, the global community has since placed considerable emphasis on relief efforts. Countries like Turkey, Botswana, Brazil and many more have supported Mozambique, allocating emergency funds and sending military assets to facilitate food, water and medicine distribution. Although combatting the cholera outbreaks and rebuilding communities that the storm devastated will be a stout challenge, the international response is promising. The response to Cyclone Idai indicates an international community both capable and willing to respond to natural disasters that impact the developing world.

– Kyle Dunphey
Photo: Google

Cyclone Idai SurvivorsCyclone Idai has wreaked havoc upon Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, leaving destruction in its wake. Survivors suffer from disease, hunger and mental health problems. Humanitarian organizations and governments are joining together to try and help people affected by the disaster.

Background

Cyclone Idai and the resulting floodwaters destroyed infrastructure, homes and crops. As the crisis comes into focus, it is clear that it could take some time for the region to recover.

The death toll between the three countries is over 750 people and rising as government and aid workers assess the damage. An estimated 1.85 million people have been affected and 36,000 homes destroyed in Mozambique alone. Rescue workers have been scrambling to save people stranded by floodwater.

Cyclone Idai is one of the top three deadliest tropical cyclones ever to affect the Southern Hemisphere. Many climbed trees to escape the rising floodwater, with rescue workers lifting 634 survivors out of trees. Others fell into the crocodile-infested waters as they became too exhausted to hold on.

Displaced people are migrating toward the port city of Beira, Mozambique and to makeshift camps to escape areas engulfed by water. The close grouping of people in the camps has created new concerns for aid workers. Disease, hunger and mental health problems threaten these survivors.

Disease Among Survivors

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has reported cases of malaria infections and cholera among Cyclone Idai survivors. Jana Sweeny, a spokesperson for the IFRC, told Earther: “In disasters like this one–one where there is a lack of clean water and sanitation, and potential overcrowding–outbreaks of waterborne diseases are common.”

The standing floodwater is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that may carry malaria. Cholera, a waterborne bacteria, could also infect the floodwaters.

Humanitarian Efforts

At least 16 different humanitarian organizations, several governments and the United Nations are contributing to help Cyclone Idai survivors. The United States government pledged the assistance of its military. IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy said at press conference in Geneva: “We are seeing tremendous collaboration and partnership from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from all over the world, and from our international and United Nations partners.”

The United Nations has unloaded 22 metric tons of food supplies, and 40 more are on the way. U.N. organizations have been active in the region, initially in rescue operations, then as aid distributors. The U.N. Central Emergency Fund has allocated $20 million to provide aid to more than 400,000 people.

The IFRC is appealing for over $30 million for disaster relief. They have been delivering Emergency Response Units, which include equipment and teams that can provide sanitation and water purification for 20,000 people per unit. The IFRC is also deploying a field hospital that will be able to administer medical care for at least 150,000 people.

The IFRC has set up an online portal for connecting displaced children with their distraught parents. Cyclone Idai has left many children unaccompanied as they were either separated from their parents or orphaned.  Save the Children is also working to help these child Cyclone Idai survivors.

There is difficulty distributing aid as some of the affected areas are remote. Helicopters are the only safe mode of distribution since the cyclone destroyed roads and communications infrastructure.

The damage done by Cyclone Idai on Southeastern Africa will not be fully realized until some time has passed. But for now, the global humanitarian community is helping the region recover from this disaster.

– Peter S. Mayer
Photo: Flickr

Oral Cholera VaccineCoastal cities like Beira, Mozambique thought they were prepared for cyclones. In 2012, the city built new drainage systems and barriers to help them withstand the rising seas and increased storms from climate change.

Cyclone Idai proved that they weren’t as prepared as they thought. On March 14, the cyclone hit the coast and claimed at least 847 lives in the region, as well as displacing tens of thousands. The cyclone created an inland sea from the mass flooding that spans 80 miles long and 15 miles wide.

How Beira was Affected

Since the cyclone, more than 1,300 people in Beira have been drinking from local ponds, overflowed latrines, and other unsafe water sources. These conditions are ripe for deadly diseases, including cholera.

Thousands of people are currently in displacement camps with few toilets and little clean water. While health workers have responded to the situations quickly, they have restored water supply to only 60 percent of the population. Many are still left to drink unclean water and defecate in the streets.

A cholera outbreak has been declared in Beira. The number of people affected went from five on March 27 into the hundreds. Cholera currently afflicts over 3,100 people and has resulted in six deaths.

Quick Response to Cholera Outbreak

On April 3rd, health workers started distributing oral cholera vaccines in Beira. Gavi, the vaccine alliance, is funding this movement. This Mozambique Ministry of Health is responding with support from the World Health Organization and others. They have given out an estimated 884,953 vaccine doses. They have also opened nine cholera treatment centers in the region, each with a capacity of 500.

Doctors Without Borders has called this distribution the “most ambitious campaign ever conducted using the one dose cholera vaccine strategy.”

This oral cholera vaccine is usually given in two spaced-out doses, but the aid group says one treatment is effective in emergencies. The single dose is effective after seven days and offers 85 percent protection for six months. In turbulent times, it can be hard to find people to distribute the second dose.

The success of distributing the oral cholera vaccine is primarily due to the preparedness of local authorities. They organized a campaign that mobilized 1,200 community volunteers and partners. The Ministry of Health made requests for volunteers soon as the cyclone hit and organized local aid.

The Ministry of Health used its abundant volunteers to set up distribution areas. Vaccine promoters got the word out using microphones and by handing out doses to high traffic areas. Volunteers are also passing out water purification tablets and educating people on precautions they should take with their drinking water.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse?According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of flood and storm catastrophes has risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades. With reports of excessive weather damage constantly in the news, it is important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? 

By definition, natural disasters are any form of catastrophic events induced by nature or natural activities of the Earth. Some examples include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes. The severity of such disasters is typically measured by the number of deaths, economic loss and the nation’s capacity to rebuild.

Many natural disasters are beyond human control. The constant motion of Earth’s tectonic plates initiates earthquakes and tsunamis. Fluctuation in solar radiation infiltrating the atmosphere and oceans give rise to storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.

However, sometimes natural disasters aren’t so natural and are caused by humanity’s interference with the Earth’s system.

For example, as environmental pollution increases, humans are contributing more energy to the system; which strengthens the likelihood of repeated hazards such as flash floods, bushfires, heatwaves and tropical cyclones. 

So are natural disasters getting worse? The answer is yes. The number of geophysical disasters on Earth’s surface, like earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions, have remained steady since the 1970s. But the number of climate-related catastrophes has vastly increased. The amount of damage done to the economy due to these catastrophes has seen a steady upsurge.

There were triple the number of natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 as the number that occurred between 1980 to 1989. A large majority, 80 percent, of this growth is caused by climate-related happenings.

It may no longer be important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? But instead: Why are natural catastrophes getting worse?

The scale of disasters has swelled due to higher rates of urbanization, deforestation, environmental degradation and escalating climatic elements like high temperatures, extreme rain and snow and more brutal wind and water storms.

Dangerous events do not need to result in a tragedy. Limiting vulnerability and increasing the ability to respond to these disasters can save lives. Additionally, the continuous evolution of science and technology is making it more possible to anticipate disasters, provide aid quicker and allow for the rebuilding of cities in safer areas.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr