‘Crisis on top of crisis’ as Bangladesh battles Covid-19 and braces for super Cyclone Amphan - Oxfam

‘Crisis on top of crisis’ as Bangladesh battles Covid-19 and braces for super Cyclone Amphan - Oxfam

One million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar face double threat as coronavirus cases rise daily

Cyclone Amphan, the strongest ever cyclone recorded over the Bay of Bengal, is expected to hit Bangladesh and north-east India tomorrow (Wednesday 20th May), threatening millions of people in vulnerable communities already affected by Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdown.

Millions of people are being evacuated in India and 12,000 shelters have been prepared in Bangladesh to house nearly five million people in the expected path of the cyclone. Camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, home to almost a million Rohingya refugees, are also likely to be hit and are especially vulnerable given the cramped conditions and an increasing number of coronavirus cases. Over 250 people share one tap in Cox Bazar’s sprawling refugee settlement and when heavy rainfall brings floods, dirty water runs through the camp, often through latrines and the makeshift tents bringing increased risk of infection.

Oxfam, working with partners, is preparing life-saving assistance, including clean water, sanitation, food, shelter and safety equipment for people in the cyclone’s path.

Dipankar Datta, Country Director for Oxfam Bangladesh said: “It is already a huge challenge to contain the spread of coronavirus amongst the Rohingya refugees living in over-crowded camps, sharing water and toilet facilities. Cyclone Amphan is also a major threat to the millions of vulnerable Bangladeshis living in low-lying flood prone coastal areas.” 

Without assistance, people will not only be at risk of water-borne diseases and other infections rampant during extreme weather, but also coronavirus, with their immunity compromised. Between Bangladesh and India, there are nearly 130,000 reported cases of Covid-19, including an increasing number of cases in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

In Bangladesh, there are fears that up 1.4 million people may be displaced due to the cyclone and 600,000 homes could be destroyed. Oxfam is working with partner organisations to help evacuate people to cyclone shelters, provide safe drinking water and dry food. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, it is distributing masks, providing handwashing facilities and helping disinfect cyclone shelters.

In the low-lying coastal areas, Oxfam is also preparing de-salination plants to provide safe drinking water because when the areas flood the salty water is undrinkable.

Parul Begum is a community leader in a small vulnerable coastal village in Bangladesh and supported by Oxfam partner, Society for Development Initiatives. She said that people are more concerned about coronavirus than going to the shelters for safety: “This cyclone is one of the most powerful ones we have faced so far but people are really worried about how they will maintain social distancing in the cyclone shelters. We do not go to the shelters alone but also take our cattle with us. People are unsure about the hygiene and safety arrangements. Also, the cyclone shelters do not have adequate facilities for expectant and lactating mothers or sufficient privacy for women and girls.”

Oxfam Ireland is appealing to the public to support Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar who are now facing the double deadly threat of Covid-19 alongside the fast-approaching super Cyclone Amphan.

To find out more about Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal visit oxfamireland.org/covid  



CONTACT: Spokespeople, including in country, are available for interview. To arrange an interview or for more information, contact:

Alice Dawson-Lyons / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org / +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to editors: 

  • In Bangladesh, Oxfam is providing water and sanitation and increasing hygiene awareness to 173,000 people in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and 9,000 people in the surrounding community. It also helping almost 400,000 people in the coastal districts. 
  • Oxfam India is working across 14 states to help five million people with hygiene training and over one million people with food during the coronavirus lockdown migration. 
  •  VNR available of Cox’s Bazar – footage shot Sunday 17 and Monday 18 May 2020. Contains interviews with a female Rohingya refugee and Moury Rahman, Oxfam’s Senior Public Health Promotion in the camp as well as B roll of camp, people handwashing, social distancing, wearing masks
  • More footage and photographs from Cox’s Bazar will be available from Wednesday. 


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