By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A killer cyclone that struck Bangladesh four days ago has damaged the homes of tens of thousands of people and destroyed their crops, aid groups said, warning that many coastal communities were still in need.
With wind speeds of up to 90 kmph (56 mph) and heavy rains, cyclone Mahasen buffeted Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India in the Bay of Bengal on May 16, killing at least 75 people in the region.
Despite fears of a humanitarian catastrophe, the cyclone weakened to a tropical storm as it made landfall in Bangladesh, where one million people had been evacuated. But while the death toll was relatively low, aid workers said initial assessments showed some coastal areas had been seriously affected.
"Reports from our partners on the ground tell us that there has been a big impact on shelter. While people were evacuated during the storm, they have now returned to find their homes partially or fully damaged," said Cassie Dummett, deputy regional manager for Catholic Relief Services.
"There has also been an impact on farming communities who have, in some areas, lost 60 percent of their standing crops of rice paddy."
Dummett said some populations were living amid the wreckage of their homes, while others were inhabiting damaged houses because they had nowhere else to go. Bangladeshi authorities says the storm had disrupted the lives of 1.3 million people, with almost 100,000 mainly mud-and-straw homes full or partially destroyed.
EARLY WARNING HELPED
Bangladesh - one of the world's most densely populated countries - is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, storm surges, droughts, floods and earthquakes, which often affect millions of people.
Cyclone Sidr in 2007 killed around 3,500 people in Bangladesh. A year later, cyclone Nargis devastated neighbouring Myanmar and left up to 140,000 dead.
The United Nations said heavy rain and flooding caused by Mahasen had killed eight people in Sri Lanka and affected around 12,000 people, while 17 had died in Bangladesh. At least 50 Muslim Rohingyas were also killed after their boat capsized as they attempted to flee the storm from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
In Myanmar, where there were major concerns for displaced Rohingya populations and more than 120,000 evacuated in Rakhine state, the storm's impact was minimal.
"There was no real impact as a result of the storm in Myanmar which was very fortunate. We, the U.N agencies, local authorities and NGOS, prepared ahead of time and relocated people to safer ground," Kirsten Mildren, public information officer for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Bangkok.
The United Nations also commended Bangladesh's preparedness, saying that the disaster-prone low-lying nation made sure the right measures were in place and communities in the path of the storm were safe and well informed.
"While unfortunately there has been a loss of life, the government demonstrated its commitment to disaster risk reduction and have taken the necessary preparedness steps to prevent a catastrophe," Pascal Villeneuve, the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, said in a statement.
(Additional reporting Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Thin Lei Win in Bangkok)