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21 May 2020

KATHMANDU / NEW YORK/ SYDNEY, 20 May 2020 - At least 19 million children in parts of Bangladesh and India are at imminent risk from flash flooding, storm surges and heavy rain as Cyclone Amphan made landfall today, UNICEF has warned. The Indian state of West Bengal, home to more than 50 million people, including over 16 million children, is expected to take a direct hit from the powerful storm.

UNICEF is also very concerned that COVID-19 could deepen the humanitarian consequences of Cyclone Amphan in both countries. Evacuees who have moved to crowded temporary shelters would be especially vulnerable to the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19, as well as other infections.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “The safety of children and their families in the areas that will be impacted is a priority and it is good to see that the authorities have planned their urgent response factoring in the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.”    

Based on the storm’s current trajectory, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh – now sheltering over 850.000 Rohingya refugees – is likely to experience high winds and heavy rains which may cause damage to homes and shelters in the refugee camps and Bangladeshi communities. This population is already highly vulnerable and cases of COVID-19 have recently been confirmed in the camps and host communities. 

UNICEF is working with the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Cox’s Bazar, the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, and humanitarian partners to help ensure Bangladeshi and Rohingya children and families remain protected. These efforts include raising awareness among Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities on cyclone preparedness and prepositioning emergency life-saving water, sanitation, hygiene and medical supplies to meet immediate humanitarian needs. UNICEF has also mobilized personal protective equipment to protect frontline workers from COVID-19.

“The children of refugee families in Cox’s Bazar have already endured what no child should. They’ve been forced to flee their homes in violent circumstances to live in very basic conditions, reliant on humanitarian assistance,” said Felicity Wever, Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia. “Thousands of families live crammed together and resources are already stretched  trying to deliver regular healthcare services, let alone dealing with the response to coronavirus. The dual threat of Cyclone Amphan’s potential impact amid a coronavirus outbreak puts children and families in life-threatening danger and threatens to reverse so much of the good that has been done.”

Across the region, UNICEF is working closely with the governments of Bangladesh and India and stands ready to support humanitarian operations to reach children and families affected by Cyclone Amphan.