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Counting cyclone losses, Bangladeshis call for more climate action

People who were evacuated watch the rains from inside a shelter after Cyclone Remal lashed Bangladesh’s southern coast in Shyamnagar, Satkhira District, Bangladesh, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdul Goni) People who were evacuated watch the rains from inside a shelter after Cyclone Remal lashed Bangladesh’s southern coast in Shyamnagar, Satkhira District, Bangladesh, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdul Goni)
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DHAKA -

As Bangladeshis count their losses from the cyclone that lashed low-lying coastal areas on Sunday, calls are growing for the government to bolster storm defences and aid mechanisms as extreme weather becomes more common.

Strong gales and heavy rain triggered by Remal, the first major cyclone of the year, pounded the coastlines of India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least 16 people, cutting power to millions and wrecking homes and livelihoods.

Tens of thousands of cyclone-response volunteers helped in the evacuation of almost a million people to storm shelters in Bangladesh following a warning by the country's meteorological office, helping to limit the death toll.

But the cyclone caused multimillion-dollar economic losses, dealing a heavy blow to about 350,000 shrimp-farming families affected by the monsoon surge, said Abdullah Al-Mamun, professor of fisheries and marine science at Noakhali Science and Technology University.

Ripon Chandra Das, a student from the hard-hit southern region of Dacope, said the monsoon surge had swept away the coastal fish and shrimp ponds of hundreds of families in his village.

"All the ponds and enclosures were swamped by the torrent, flushing out the fish and shrimplings that farmers had introduced not so long ago," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from his village of Joynagar.

Remal caused fisheries losses estimated at about 1.7 billion taka (US$14.55 million), local media reported.

In Batabunia, which lies in the same district as Joynagar, the village market was completely smashed by the cyclone, said Achyut Prasad, a health professional from the area.

Across the country, nearly 35,000 homes were destroyed and another 115,000 damaged, a government official said.

Calls for compensation

Cyclone Remal is the first of the frequent storms expected to pound the low-lying coasts of India and Bangladesh this year as climate change drives up surface temperatures at sea.

In Bangladesh, the storm's devastation is a fresh blow for poor rural families who have been forced to switch to fish and shrimp farming due to the impact of increasing drought, heat and soil salinity on agriculture.

Researchers say saline build-up is growing in the country's coastal regions - spurred by various factors including rising seas.

Many villagers invested their savings and took on debt to build fish ponds washed away by the tidal surge, Chandra Das said.

Maksudur Rahman, head of local development organization Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS) near the Sundarbans area, said better maintenance of coastal embankments would help limit the damage from storm surges.

He suggested the government provide funding to local shrimp and fish farmers to help them build higher embankments around their low-lying aquaculture sites, and said the state must act to ensure more people receive compensation.

"We cannot expect more than 10 per cent of the affected people to get compensation, as support is usually inadequate with lots of loopholes," he said.

Helping smallholder farmers and aquaculturists adapt their fields and fish ponds should be a priority for the government as the world tries to channel more climate finance to the poorest communities, Rahman said.

As well as raising coastal embankments, mangroves are a vital shield from storm surges, he added. Tree-planting programs would also help as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather.

While the government has a database of fish farmers, Mamun called for the use of artificial intelligence-powered tools to estimate the economic losses in order to channel state aid to the affected families.

"We have the tools and data to address these damages, but we need to put them together," he said.  

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