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Cyclones are no longer Bangladesh’s deadliest disasters. The toll from floods and lightnings is creeping up

  • Moinul Hoque Chowdhury, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-10-11 23:51:33 BdST

More than a hundred lives were lost when a devastating cyclonic storm hit Bangladesh two decades ago. Though a few more cyclones have swept through the country in the following years, they have caused little damage to lives and assets.

A better forecast system teamed with shelter centres in the affected areas and an enhanced disaster management system has helped reduce the damage. The cyclones that followed Ayla were also weaker.

Bangladesh, however, is facing more damage from other natural phenomena, like floods and lightning.

At least 250 people have been killed by lightning between March and September this year.

“We used to depend on animation and still images based on satellite data, but now we use mathematical models to predict cyclone routes," said Dr Samrendra Karmakar, chairman of National Oceanographic and Maritime Institute.

“After 1991, the cyclonic storms that hit Bangladesh were not so intense. Most of them had a wind speed of 100 to 150 kmph," he said.

The cyclone that swept through Bangladesh in 1970 had a wind speed of 224 kmph and the one in 1991 had a wind speed of 220 kmph. Sidr, the cyclone in 2007, had a wind speed of 223 kmph.

Cyclone Mora made landfall in Bangladesh with a wind speed of 146 kmph and Roanu with 128 kmph. For Komen, the wind speed was 65 kmph, while for Mahasen, it was 100 kmph.

MORE LIGHTNING DEATHS

There has been a sudden rise in the number of deaths due to lightning, said Dr Samrendra, former director of Bangladesh Meteorological Department. A combined effort may bring down the death toll, he believes.

“We need to create awareness in villages and take precautions. 'Now casting forecast' and radar stations should be working all the time. The forecast should be made at least half an hour before a storm," he said.

From March to August, 231 people died from lightning strikes and 64 people were injured, said Abdul Aleem, chief executive of Save the Society and Thunderstorm Awareness Forum.

Among the dead, 146 died while working in farms and fields during a storm, and 33 died in lightning strikes while fishing or travelling on a boat, he said.

In August, 17 people died from lightning while they were travelling by boat to attend a wedding ceremony. This was the first incident where so many were killed in a single lightning strike.

FLOODS AND RIVER EROSION

For the past six years, except for 2018, floods have been a regular disaster in the country and their effects have persisted for 10 to 40 days, said Prof AKM Saiful Islam of BUET's Institute of Water and Flood Management. Floods caused a lot of damage in the last two years.

Annual rainfall has increased and it will only increase further, he said.

Highlighting Bangladesh’s vulnerability to natural disasters, Prof Saiful said, lightning incidents and flash floods have increased in the haor areas.

“Many places are suffering from urban floods due to heavy rain. Rangpur and Chattogram experienced landslides. On the other hand, the southern part of the country suffered from a drought in November. Heat waves and heat shock in agriculture have become common. There’s a risk of earthquakes. Lives and livelihoods are affected, and even the Sundarbans is vulnerable to natural disasters.”

Prof Saiful blamed local and global man-made reasons, including carbon emission, indiscriminate embankment construction, deforestation and losing water bodies for the escalating number of natural disasters.

The government spends a lot for immediate relief distribution, shifting people and livestock to flood shelters and reconstructing embankments, but they should plan for permanent measures to prevent the damage, he said.

“Houses should be designed in a way that they could survive floods. Planning is needed for the agriculture sector. Strengthening the flood warning system and flood management is also needed. The government should focus on rehabilitation and prevention of salinity in water in the coastal areas.”

MULTIDIMENSIONAL PREPARATION NEEDED

The Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) was founded in 1972. As many as 75,000 volunteers of the organisations work to prevent disasters in the country.

Highlighting their capacity enhancement in confronting a cyclone, CPP Director Ahmadul Haque said the current death tolls from cyclones have dropped to single digits or even zero, while it used to be thousands before 1991.

CPP is expanding to three new units, enabling it to work to prevent other disasters in addition to cyclones. These will include an immediate response unit, a special unit to rescue people from shallow water and a high tide or tidal surge monitoring unit.

In addition, the CPP will provide training in schools to educate students on saving themselves and others from disasters like earthquakes and lightning strikes, Haque said.

In the past, it was hard to rescue flood affected people, but now there are rescue boats, said Md Mohsin, secretary in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, when asked about the government’s initiative to prevent natural disasters.

“We’re continuing our efforts to reduce the damage from all types of natural disasters, and ensure relief and rehabilitation.”

[Written in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed]