Thirty-five dead, millions evacuated . . .
Cyclone Sitrang’s ominous arrival on October 24 took no one by surprise in Bangladesh and the eastern part of India, thanks to advanced technology and forecasting systems. The forecast, for its part, ensured that at least 10 million people were evacuated to safety. However, official reports suggest that at least 35 people were killed, primarily by falling trees, with others drowning. The cyclone packed winds of up to 88km/h, leaving a trail of destruction and millions without power in Bangladesh. The storm largely petered out by the time it reached northeast India. Low-lying Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable areas, with the impact of rising water levels compounded by storms, floods, and erosion.
Bangladesh’s looming energy crisis . . .
The cyclone-triggered power failure left Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, and neighbouring regions of the country without power for hours. Earlier in October, Bangladesh faced a national grid failure, causing one of the largest blackouts in Bangladesh and leaving 80 per cent of the population in the dark for up to eight hours. The country has been staring down an ongoing power crisis prompted by a fuel shortage (and worsened by the Russia-Ukraine war). These compounding crises – power uncertainties and rising fuel prices – have led to massive public unrest. The government has been forced to take stringent measures such as controlled power cuts and reduced work hours to ensure adequate power supply. With natural disasters such as cyclones becoming commonplace in the Bay of Bengal, the government faces an uphill battle of diverting funds to address its energy crisis while also managing the impact of such natural disasters.
Climate change and politics . . .
Bangladesh accounts for about 0.56 per cent of global carbon emissions, but it is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change. The economy, primarily driven by ready-made garment manufacturing, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the economy is recovering now, the country faces multiple coastal natural disasters every year. Bangladeshi people are adapting, with farmers adopting, for example, complex floating farms to yield in-demand organic produce. But the larger question for both the Bangladeshi government and world leaders surrounds the future of the country’s climate-displaced refugees. While Cyclone Sitrang reportedly spared the thousands of Rohingya refugees living on the flood-prone silt island, Bhashan Char, in the Bay of Bengal, there’s no guarantee that the next disaster will be as forgiving.