Cyclone hits Bangladesh islands


The Third Pole, Cox's Bazar District, Bangladesh

Around 100 huts have been flattened as soon as Cyclone Komen crossed the Bangladesh coast, near its border with Myanmar – at a most unusual time of year


Scientists predict cyclones will become more frequent and more severe because of global warming (Click here for live map)

Intensifying swiftly from a depression in the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Komen hit Saint Martin’s island and the Teknaf area in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh in the afternoon of July 30, the country’s weather office said.

Bangladesh Meteorological Department director Shah Alam said in the middle of the afternoon that the cyclone may hit other islands like Hatia and Sandwip in Chittagong district later in the day. Chittagong port – Bangladesh’s largest – stood directly in its way.

Alam was worried because after landfall, Komen may move towards the hilly regions of Chittagong, which are more vulnerable to landslides and other mishaps due to strong winds and heavy rainfall.

But he was also hopeful that the cyclone may weaken as it moved inland.

A journalist based in Cox’s Bazar said Komen had already destroyed about 100 houses in Teknaf area of the district.

Preparedness of the government

With Cyclone Komen intensifying from a monsoon depression only the day before, authorities had little time to move people to the cyclone shelters that now dot the Bangladesh coast.

Ruhul Amin, director of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), told that volunteers of the programme had started the evacuation process on the night of July 29, and a large number of people had been moved. But many of them had returned home on July 30 morning as the cyclone had stalled in the sea. Eventually, it crossed the coast in the afternoon.

The Chittagong port authority has issued an alert to all vessels and advised them to remain in the river channels rather than go out to sea. But since the storm intensified suddenly, many fishing vessels out at sea did not make it back to port before the cyclone hit. Their fate is unknown.

Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Barisal airports have been closed. All officials in coastal districts have been asked to cancel their holidays.

Prediction of prolonged flood

The Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre has said the cyclone will worsen and prolong the current flood-like situation in the south-eastern districts of Bangladesh – Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Feni. The next high tide may see a surge 3-5 feet above the usual, and that can affect over 15 coastal districts.

The water carried by the surge will “definitely inundate” low-lying areas of other coastal districts including Barisal, Bhola, Patuakhali and Jhalokathi, said Tareq Siddique, duty officer at the warning centre.

Amin the CPP director was worried that the tidal surge will mean many farms being damaged by salt water. The farms are now being prepared for the year’s major paddy crop Aman.

Unusual time for a cyclone

April-May and November-December are the usual cyclone seasons in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, all the cyclones in the last one decade – including big ones like Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009 – took place in November or May.

Amin – who has been involved with the CPP for 20 years – said never before had he seen a cyclone in July. He thought this changing pattern was a result of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has forecast that as a result of global warming, cyclones will become more frequent and more severe. Arriving in the middle of the monsoon, Komen may be proving the scientists right.

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), told that such an unusual phenomenon could not be related to climate change directly but the pattern was somehow related.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, Bangladesh is at specific risk from climate change due to its exposure to sea-level rise and extreme events like salinity intrusion, drought, erratic rainfall, unusual cyclonic events and tidal surges – which will hamper the country