Imagine this. You’re at your home in Bangladesh with your family. You have been for weeks, following directives to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. But now, there’s a new risk facing your family: super-cyclone Amphan.
It’s the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal. You’re doubtful your home on the riverbed will survive. You’re faced with a difficult choice, and the stakes are literally life-and-death: Stay home and weather the storm or evacuate to a shelter and risk exposure to COVID-19?
This was a choice faced by millions of people in mid-May, as historic super-cyclone Amphan made landfall in eastern India and Bangladesh.
It was an impossible situation for all involved. Government officials worked hard to make decisions that would keep people safe from both the storm and the virus, but in some cases, these were competing priorities.
Caught in the middle of all the chaos is, as always, the most vulnerable: children and families living in poverty, like 12-year-old Aduri’s family in Bangladesh.
Aduri, along with her mother, Nupur, and her father, Jahangir, chose to evacuate their bamboo home on the riverbed and go to their local cyclone shelter, where they sheltered from the storm along with 400 other families. In the crowded shelter, they worried about the pandemic and their country’s over 23,000 COVID-19 cases as of mid-May. But sheltering from the disaster at hand took priority.
They sat in darkness, the doors and windows of the shelter shuttered. Aduri remembers the sounds of rushing wind through the trees and loud bangs as tin roofs were tossed through the air. It was a long 12 hours unlike anything her community had ever seen or experienced before.
“I hugged my mum and prayed with her all night long for the storm to pass,” says Aduri.
It turns out, the choice to evacuate was the right one. In the aftermath of the storm, Aduri and her family returned to a devastating sight: where their house once stood, there was nothing left.
Losing your home at any time is devastating. But in the midst of a global pandemic, it is catastrophic. This is just one of the ways millions of families living in poverty are experiencing layered crisis. Beyond the health risks of the global pandemic, many also face hunger, economic instability, homelessness, environmental disaster and more. It’s why the World Bank predicts that this year, global poverty rates will rise for the first time since 1998.
It’s easy to forget, but the real faces behind these sobering predictions are families like Aduri’s.
Clean-up and recovery in Aduri’s community began immediately. Aduri and her family are sheltering with extended family for now. And they know they’re not alone. The local Compassion centre is there to walk alongside them.
In the face of such desperate and overwhelming need, Compassion staff are doing what they can. They aren’t just here for the aftermath of Amphan or the COVID-19 crisis. This community is their community. They’ve been here for years. They are neighbours with Compassion children and their families, in it with them. In Amphan’s wake, they immediately began checking in with each child and their family.
But often, they feel their efforts fall short. There is just so much desperate need in all the layers of crisis. Uncertainty abounds.
Despite the grey skies and muddy terrain, they haven’t lost hope. They refuse to lose hope, for the sake of their neighbours. They’ll keep showing up for them, when their homes collapse, when they fall ill, when hunger threatens to devastate them… no matter what.
We are rising as one to support families like Aduri’s through multiple layers of crisis. Will you join us?
Photography and field reporting by J. Sangma