On the Bay of Bengal this week, an environmental disaster has a name: Amphan. The storm, which was recently reclassified from super cyclone to slightly less severe super cyclone, is among the strongest storms ever recorded in the bay. It could potentially affect nearly 40 million people in India and Bangladesh, according to the Pacific Disaster Center, which tracks natural disasters in the region. When it comes to mitigating the potential falls from this storm, authorities are working to avoid another disaster: the increased spread of COVID-19 as people evacuate and first responders work closely collaboration.
Odisha, the eastern state of India likely to be the hardest hit by Amphan (pronounced UM-PUN), has extensive experience in environmental disasters. Mongabay India reports that experience has prepared them to cope with the medical disaster caused by this pandemic. But now they face a battle on two fronts: keeping people out of the way to Amphan and keeping them uninfected.
India has been planning an extreme weather season for some time in the context of COVID-19, says Loretta Hieber Girardet, head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction for the Asia-Pacific region. At a meeting with the UNDRR a few weeks ago, Giradet said the country is already planning how to adapt its response to disasters. "They pre-positioned supplies," she said, "and they adapted the early warning messages so that they included information about physical distance and preventive behaviors."
The Odisha Public Disaster Management Authority is also prioritizing COVID-19 distancing practices in the way shelters are deployed for evacuees. According to a government document released yesterday, pregnant women and the elderly are separated so that they can benefit from specialized accommodation, and all those who have to evacuate for safety reasons are encouraged to wear masks or to be cover the mouth and nose. SMS messages and the use of warning sirens are also used to warn people they need to evacuate, reports the Times of India.
The storm is expected to land on May 20, reports the Times, and to hit both Odisha and the neighboring state of West Bengal, where Kolkata is located. The two states border the Bay of Bengal, the "global home of tropical cyclones" according to the BBC.
The UNDRR is monitoring what's going on with Amphan, as it did with tropical cyclone Harold in Vanautu last month, for information to remember on how to achieve environmental disaster management and management. medical disasters at the same time. India has been subject to one of the strictest COVID-19 bans in the world, which is now in its 56th day.
"India has a very powerful national disaster management agency," says Girardet. "For this reason, I think there will be some good lessons that we can share with other parts of the region."
The big question, she says, is to what extent India and neighboring Bangladesh, which will also be affected by Amphan, are able to coordinate their separate health and disaster management agencies to effectively prevent the spread COVID-19 during evacuations and disaster response. "This is something that I think we will be watching carefully for," she said.