UK’s Guardian carries Bangladesh PM’s article on managing “twin perils”

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DHAKA, June 3, 2020 (BSS) – UK-based The Guardian today carried an article by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina authored jointly with an international disaster management expert, explaining her government’s strategy in battling “twin perils” of super cyclone Amphan and COVID-19 pandemic an offering the country’s lessons for others.

“Bangladesh has battled the twin perils of a super-cyclone and Covid-19. We can offer lessons for others facing similar danger,” she wrote in the article titled “Fighting cyclones and coronavirus: how we evacuated millions during a pandemic”.

The premier explained how her government took prompt actions racing against the time while infrastructure were yet to be readied keeping in mind the requirement of physical distancing for COVID-19 while tens of thousands of “reluctant” people were to be evacuated overnight.

“There was no time to lose when Cyclone Amphan began forming over the Indian Ocean in May,” read the article co-authored with Patrick V. Verkooijen, the CEO of Global Center on Adaptation that manages UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon chaired Global Commission on Adaptation.

The article pointed out that mass evacuations appear as a major challenge during most such impending cyclones as people became unwilling to leave their homes unguarded while “this time the challenge was far more complex”.

“People were afraid to move to shelters for fear of the virus. First responders also had to make sure the evacuation itself was not a vector for contagion,” it article read.

It said in a matter of days, Bangladesh prepared almost 10,500 additional shelters on top of 4,171 in existence ones to accommodate evacuees maintaining social distancing while over 70,000 volunteers across coastlines were mobilized simultaneously.

“Masks, water, soap and sanitiser were distributed. The garments industry, reeling from cancelled export orders, retooled production lines to manufacture personal protective equipment,” the article read.

The jointly authored article wrote that while any death was regrettable, Bangladesh’s disaster preparedness, including a network of 55,000 first responders, meant Amphan killed fewer people compared to its intensity.

   It pointed out that Bangladesh’s early-warning systems and well-rehearsed evacuation drills “saved hundreds of thousands of lives over the years”.

   The article, however, said Amphan-caused damages in India and Bangladesh was the “costliest on record in the north Indian Ocean, leaving destruction estimated at $13bn (£10.4m)”.

    “In Bangladesh (alone), it washed out 415km of roads, 200 bridges, tens of thousands of homes and vast tracts of farmland and fisheries. More than 150km of embankments meant to contain storm surges were damaged,” it continued. 

    The article, however, observed that the mankind was currently faced with “interrelated nature of the climate and health risks as the Amphan came on top of the COVOD-19 amid global expert predictions of more such cyclones or hurricanes in the coming months.

    Quoting weather agencies like US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the article noted that unusually warm water temperatures might expose the Atlantic and Caribbean regions to such catastrophes which it described as a “consequence of the climate emergency”.

    “As in Bangladesh, the task of keeping people safe across the southern US and the Caribbean will be immeasurably more complicated as a result of Covid-19,” the jointly authored article read.

    It said “it is not enough to deal with the immediate effects of a natural disaster; communities need to be better prepared for the next storm” while rebuilding infrastructure and livelihoods, however, “is another matter”.

 The article said Bangladesh rebuilt infrastructures many times before in the wake of cyclones as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to tropical storms while two-thirds of its land lies less than 5m above sea level making the rebuilding is a “Sisyphean task”.

  “The climate crisis makes it even harder. Cyclones are becoming fiercer and more frequent. Rising ocean levels are poisoning wells and farmland,” it read.

  The article added: “The pandemic and resulting deep economic crisis mean that the government must now deal with overlapping health, climate and economic emergencies all at once.”

   It said across the world, Covid-19 was adding a huge strain to government finances but long-term fiscal frameworks and climate adaptation plans could give nations better tools to respond as “health, economic and climate resilience are interrelated”.

 “That’s why (Bangladesh’s) Delta Plan also includes land and water management projects, and measures to make communities healthier and more resilient: for example, solar home kits that can be used to filter contaminated water to stop disease following every destructive storm,” the article said.

   The article’s co-author Verkooijen previously wrote jointly an op-ed with Ban Ki-Moon for The Boston Globe entitled Climate proofing our communities calling upon US to implement a climate-resilient infrastructure plan, a campaign Bangladesh spearheads under Sheikh Hasina’s stewardship being chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum,

  One of the globes most circulated and prestigious newspapers, The Guardian, carried  the article  days after Prince Charles appreciated Sheikh Hasina for her strides to contain novel coronavirus in Bangladesh.

  “I was most impressed to hear how you have been able to contain the spread of this pernicious disease at the early stages of its outbreak and that the number of deaths is mercifully so low,” he wrote in a letter to the premier on April 6.