Some 50,000 volunteers in coastal communities across southern Bangladesh are out and about warning people to move to higher ground ahead of Cyclone Mahasen. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated so far.
“We’ve been working here for the last couple of days,” Joydev Dutt, a Red Crescent volunteer from Barguna District, told IRIN. He has spent hours riding around on his bicycle in heavy rain with a megaphone hurled over his shoulder. “People are responding to our warning. Almost all people in this cyclone-prone area have been evacuated.”
According to local government officials, 700,000 to 800,000 people have been evacuated in 13 coastal districts under the country’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), operated jointly by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the government.
The programme operates an extensive telecommunications network, including radio comunication between volunteers and CPP headquarters in Dhaka.
To receive meteorological storm warnings, each of the 3,291 unit team leaders is provided with a transistor radio. To disseminate warning signals within the community, each team, comprised of 15 volunteers, is given a megaphone, a hand siren, a flag, and a signal light, while team leaders also get a bicycle or motorcycle, depending on the terrain and remoteness of the area.
Bangladesh Minister of Disaster Management and Relief Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali said the government had finalized all necessary preparations.
“At least 3,770 shelters are ready to protect cyclone-affected people. The government also instructed the authorities concerned to prepare all primary schools in coastal areas to shelter affected people,” he said, adding that all public holidays for local government workers had been cancelled.
The government has also prepared one medical team for every union (smallest administrative unit), two for every sub-district and five for every district, while 100 tons of food will be provided to each of the 13 districts at risk. Twenty-two naval ships are on standby to assist in the rescue operation, he said.
The category-1 cyclone, with wind gusts of 85-90km per hour over the next 24-36 hours, is expected to hit just north of Chittagong, near the border with Myanmar, according to an update issued on 15 May by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
All port operations, as well as flights into Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar have been cancelled.
According to the latest estimates, more than four million people are living in high risk areas (districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar).
Evacuation efforts are also under way in neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where more than 140,000 Muslim Rohingyas were displaced during two bouts of sectarian violence in 2012.
“We are assisting the relocation in some areas by working with the communities and the state government to move vulnerable people to safer ground quickly, based on the principles of voluntariness and safety,” said Barbara Manzi, OCHA’s head of office in Sittwe.
According to government figures released on 15 May, more than 35,500 people have been relocated from Sittwe, Minby, Myauk U, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Myebon and Pauktaw (townships) since 13 May, in line with stage 1 of the government’s three-stage disaster preparedness plan.
The internally displace persons (IDPs) are being relocated to higher ground and, where possible, will be temporarily housed in government buildings, schools and mosques.
“There has been some resistance by local residents and IDPs,” Myanmar's presidential spokesman Ye Htut said. “However, it’s imperative for everyone in the community to work together on this.”
Burmese authorities are now calling on ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingyas to set aside their differences and come together, given the potential for a humanitarian crisis.
Earlier this week, one of several boats carrying IDPs from a flood-prone and exposed camp off the coast of Rakhine struck rocks and capsized. Fifty-eight people are missing, feared drowned, the government says.