One million people evacuated from 13 coastal districts 24 hours before landfall; 13 fatalities reported so far
The government of Bangladesh has received praise from the United Nations for its timely evacuation of about one million people before tropical cyclone Mahasen hit its coastline on May 16.
In a statement released on May 20, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says, “While tropical storm Mahasen reached the coastline of Bangladesh on Thursday weaker than anticipated, the preparedness work undertaken by the government and humanitarian partners saved countless lives.”
Prepared for disaster
Bangladesh has had a history of cyclones, which prompted the institution of a cyclone preparedness programme in 1972. Ahead of the cyclone’s arrival on the coast, the government of Bangladesh set in motion several measures. Thousands of community volunteers were mobilised; alerts and information were sent to at-risk communities in the country, and cash payments were paid in advance. The government also collaborated with international humanitarian partners to ensure that a coordinated response was on standby. An estimated one million people were evacuated from 13 coastal districts in the 24 hours before Mahasen hit.
Preliminary assessments indicate that there have been 13 fatalities, though the numbers could have been much more. OCHA said it would continue to work with Bangladesh to restore livelihoods, shelter and provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene in affected areas.
Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is also one of the most disaster-prone, and is particularly susceptible to cyclones and floods. The funnel-shaped northern portion of the Bay of Bengal causes tidal bores when cyclones make landfall, putting people living in coastal areas at risk. Some of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history with high casualties were tropical cyclones that hit the regionh. Cyclone Bhola hit Bangladesh in 1971 and killed more than 400,000 people.
However, the government’s emphasis on cyclone preparedness has significantly reduced the fatalities due to these natural phenomena. In 2009, when Cyclone Aila struck, many volunteers helped move thousands of people out of the disaster area. The death toll from that tragedy was less than 200