Cyclone Mahasen left Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar with less deaths and damage than expected, and some aid groups believe disaster preparedness played a part in a region prone to catastrophes.
Although the storm battered the coastlines of the four affected countries last week with less intensity than originally feared, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Christian relief organization World Vision also give credit to the disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction initiatives of aid agencies and vulnerable communities.
Bangladesh, the hardest-hit nation, counted 48 dead and more than 1.2 million people affected, while Sri Lanka reported seven deaths and almost 4,000 displaced citizens. In Myanmar, which was not directly hit by the cyclone, 58 people perished when one of seven boats transporting refugees from a flood-prone camp in Rakhine State capsized. India did not report any losses.
Kirsten Mildren, regional communications officer at OCHA’s office for Asia-Pacific, told Devex that disaster preparedness “certainly” contributed to the low number of casualties in Bangladesh.
OCHA estimates that 1 million people were evacuated from 13 coastal districts in the country in the 24 hours prior to the arrival of the storm, in an effort to halt a repeat of the effects of Cyclone Bhola, which claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people in 1971.
Mildren said humanitarian agencies coordinated their responses and created a distribution plan to help address food, education, health, temporary shelter, logistics, and water, sanitation and hygiene concerns affecting at least 43,000 households.
World Vision also had a presence in Bangladesh, as well as in the other three affected countries in the days leading up to the storm.
Christy Davis, regional advisor for HEA and community resilience for World Vision in Asia-Pacific, told Devex that the agency has been working with coastal communities and governments to brace for future storms.
World Vision conducted activities like early warning preparation, cyclone simulations and “village preparedness sessions” for the most vulnerable community members, including the illiterate.
Across the four countries, the agency mobilized relief workers and thousands of local volunteers, enacted community disaster response plans, opened emergency operations shelters and worked with partners to support evacuees to prepare for Mahasen.
But why did World Vision choose to prioritize disaster preparedness? It’s “good development” since it protects the development investments of aid agencies and governments by undermining the effects of disasters, while also bringing value for money, said Davis.
“Every dollar invested into disaster preparedness saves seven dollars in disaster response,” Davis added.
Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covers the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business and the law.