New York: 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 makes landfall, United Nations’ children agency UNICEF has warned.

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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.

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UNICEF said it is also very concerned that the coronavirus (COVID-19) could deepen the humanitarian consequences of Cyclone Amphan in both India and Bangladesh. 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.

Youths play a game on a mobile phone at a shelter ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Amphan, in Tajpur of East Midnapore district in West Bengal, on May 20

“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.

A man and two children walk along the Tajpur Beach ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Amphan in Midnapore, West Bengal, on May 20

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 mobilised personal protective equipment to protect frontline workers from COVID-19. 

Across the region, UNICEF said it 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.