Bracing for impact
Cox’s Bazar – a coastal district studded with tarpaulin and bamboo shelters only a few steps away from the world’s largest refugee camp – is particularly prone to the frequent tropical cyclones that form in the Bay of Bengal, rendering thousands of children and families living in the Rohingya Refugee Camps and Host Communities in the city vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Due to its unique geographical location in a broad deltaic plain, Bangladesh is also highly exposed to storm surge flooding, affecting mainly the coastal regions of the country.
Amphan, the century’s strongest cyclone over the Bay of Bengal yet, hit approximately 19 of the country’s 64 districts and made landfall in West Bengal, India on the afternoon of 20 May at a time when the world had come to a complete standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further aggravating the situation.
In Cox’s Bazar, high levels of rain and the heavy storm were felt and minor to moderate incidents were reported, with almost 1,500 shelters partially damaged of which over 100 in the camps. There were no major incidents limiting access to the camps however, and all the Logistics Sector hubs are intact.
Solid upstream anticipation measures
Despite being preoccupied with procurement/Personal Protective Equipment pipeline issues in responding to the pandemic, the Logistics Sector was not caught off guard when Amphan hit. In the lead up to the monsoon and ensuing cyclone season in May and October, the Logistics Sector had been focusing on planning, capacity strengthening and preparedness activities both to respond to future cyclones and to the pandemic. Moreover, to support effective decision-making, the Logistics sector has provided technical Logistics advice and assisted with access to facilities for organisations facing supply chain challenges.
To contain the effects of Amphan and minimize losses, the Logistics Sector partially activated the 72-hour Cyclone Preparedness Plan. As part of the plan, cargo stored in Mobile Storage Units (MSUs) were wrapped with tarpaulin, ropes and cement blocks and anchored to be protected against landfall.
If the cyclone had made landfall in Cox’s Bazar the MSU skins would have been removed to avoid any damage. Stand-by storage capacity such as MSUs, generators and light towers were tested and prepositioned at Madhu Chara hub for rapid deployment. Hardcover storage in the form of 20ft containers was allocated to organisations in and around the camps for the monsoon and cyclone preparedness to protect the organisation’s high-value cargo. The Logistics Sector loaned thirty-four 20ft containers to 19 organisations in ten locations and asset protection boxes were made available to the partners to prevent damage to assets like laptops and other valuable equipment.
In addition, transporters were informed about the potential increase in demand for vehicle mobilization. Labour Contracts were in place to mobilize workforce/labours required for warehouse operation. Throughout 2019-2020, the Logistics Sector also trained 75 participants from different organisations on Cyclone Preparedness so that they would be responsible for their storage sites to de-skin the MSUs. Finally, the Logistics Sector has a set of trained labours that could be deployed to support partners in doing so.
Participants receive training from the Logistics Sector on MSU setup and cyclone preparedness in Balukhali Logistics Hub in January 2020. This involves setting up the MSU, removing the skin of the MSU, and securing the cargos with tarpaulin, rope and cement blocks. Photo: Logistics Sector
A post-disaster scenario
Since Amphan mainly hit West Bengal, India, the 72-hour plan was not fully activated in Cox’s Bazar. Had the area been significantly affected, the Logistics Sector’s online physical access constraints map would have been continuously updated to reflect the information gathered from the country’s armed forces and the humanitarian community informing on the flow in core corridors from Cox’s Bazar to the camps. The results from this assessment would then be also shared with relevant actors, such as the Site Engineering Management Project (SEMP) and military engineers to evaluate possible initiatives that could be taken to remove road blockages.
Furthermore, within 48 hours of landfall, common storage conditions are assessed for functionality and emergency maintenance. Partners also assess private storage and operation support structure.
Logistics Sector team members have wrapped relief items with tarpaulin, ropes and cement blocks in Madhu Chara Logistics Hub ahead of the cyclone, 18 May 2020. Photo: Logistics Sector
The Logistics Sector would then conduct an assessment of Cox’s Bazar airport, roads and ports. Liaising with the Logistics Emergency Team, the Sector would gather information on the status and damage of the country’s largest port, in Chittagong. All results and information gathered would then be shared with partner organisations.
Finally, ad hoc Logistics Sector coordination meetings would be organised based on the necessity to congregate relevant actors as well as to compile inbound supplies data from partners to dimension storage as well as operational support needs in Cox’s Bazar.
These preparedness measures show how time can be gained in complex humanitarian crises, reducing physical damage to assistance tools prepositioned for aid, and therefore the need for international mobilisation.
To learn more about the Logistics Sector operation in Bangladesh, visit our dedicated page here.