Bangladesh is a riverine country. Like veins that pump blood throughout the human body, rivers have been the source of sustenance for the people on this land. These rivers, through the ages, have played integral roles in shaping the lives and livelihoods of our people. Unfortunately, where there is light, there is shadow. Because of Bangladesh’s climate, geographical position and geomorphological characteristics, it is one of the most vulnerable countries regarding natural disasters like floods, cyclones, etc.
Almost every year, the country experiences a heavy monsoon and 2020 was no different. Like the past years, floods ravaged the North and North-Eastern parts of the country majorly starting from late June. Exacerbated by climate change, this year’s floods have been called the most damaging in the last decade. However, this time, there was another additional blow which severely threatened all mitigation efforts. And that is the Covid-19 pandemic. Being one of the most densely populated countries in the world, Bangladesh had its hands full with the pandemic to begin with. Hence, the flood and the pandemic were double blows to the already overburdened healthcare and disaster management sectors.
The floods affected about 30 districts amongst which 15 were moderately to severely impacted. These districts include Bogura, Gaibandha, Jamalpur, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Madaripur, Nilphamari, Rajbari, Rangpur, Sirajgonj, Sunamgonj, Sylhet etc. A total of 1022 Unions were inundated affecting 5.4 million people. Almost about a third of Bangladesh went under water leaving about 1059295 people waterlogged. The government did take measures beforehand to minimize the damage as 94414 people were taken to 1525 shelters. But unfortunately, despite all efforts, a large number of people had to bear the brunt of the flood. The problems ranged from shortage of pure drinking water and food, loss of employment, displacement of concerned population to gender-based violence in the affected areas. Now the question is how did Bangladesh tackle all these while simultaneously working on the Covid-19 pandemic? How much of the Covid-19 preventative and containment efforts was affected by the floods?
In Bangladesh, the first case of the Coronavirus was identified on the 8th of March. After that there has been an exponential rise in the number of cases in the last few months. Last month, however, a gradual decline was seen in the case trend. Now, the reason for such a scenario can be accounted for the lack of interest of people to test, unavailability of testing centers in some areas, a huge portion of the population being asymptomatic etc. Here our top priority will be to understand howthe flood affected districts of Bangladesh fared during the pandemic. As the pandemic is not over yet and the authorities still have not completed all mitigation efforts, it is difficult to get a complete picture of the overall scenario.
If we consider the 15 districts which had moderate to severe impact of the floods, it can be seen that on the 25th of June these districts in total had accounted for 13.33% of the total cases in the country. From then onwards, as the floods ravaged, a slow rise was seen in this case trend. This rate moved up to 15.30 % on the 5th of July and 20.8% 23 days later. Finally, as the floods gradually receded, the rate suddenly skyrocketed on the 6th of August to become 23.01%.
Now from this, it is clear that the virus did indeed spread simultaneously with the floods. But does this give a complete picture of the exact scenario that went on? Now if we compare the rise of total cases of these 15 districts with that of the whole country –
The curve of the whole country is much steeper in comparison to that of the 15 moderately and severely affected districts.
There can be a number of reasons for this scenario. One of them and rightly so, is the disruption of testing in the affected areas. Besides this, another fact is to be considered as well which is the locations where the floods had occurred. A large portion of the areas were rural and suburban. As per the reports till now, Covid-19 did not penetrate as deep into the rural areas as it did in the urban regions. This could have contributed as well to the slow rise in the affected areas. However in order to get the absolute picture, we need to wait a bit more till the pandemic is brought under control and proper data on death counts and causes is gathered on the flood affected regions.
Nevertheless, from the discussion till now, it can be said that health facilities and testing were indeed affected. Many had succumbed to drowning and various water borne diseases.
Hence, COVID-19 should be studied exclusively from other communicable diseases for the people suffering in the water logged areas.
Every year these floods leave indelible effects on the lives of the people of certain regions in our country. And if the current studies are anything to go by, the situation will only worsen in the days to come. So, we need a well-structured long-term plan that allows the people of concerned regions to not be worried about their lives and livelihoods every few years.