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 Sunday 11 May 2008
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BANGLADESH: Seasonal storms kill dozens, damage crops

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
A farmer surveys storm damage to his crops in Bangladesh’s southern Barisal District
DHAKA, 7 May 2008 (IRIN) - Over 30 people have been killed this month and hundreds more injured as seasonal storms, locally known as `norwesters’, wreaked havoc across Bangladesh.

On 6 May, eight people were killed in Siraganj, Rajbari and Lalmonirhat districts, in the northwest, south-central regions and in the extreme north.

Two days earlier, two persons were killed and 10 others injured as another localised tornado swept through southern Barisal and Magura districts.

Much of the country’s rural population lives in huts made of corrugated iron or mud and straw which are ill-equipped to withstand winds powerful enough to uproot trees and knock down electricity pylons.

Nihar Kumar Sarkar, a farmer in Barisal District, estimated that over 1,000 hectares of this year’s of ‘boro’ crop - the country’s main rice harvest - had been severely damaged and over 500 homes destroyed in his sub-district.

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`Norwesters’ strike Bangladesh two times a year - in April-May, and later in November. Given their ferocity and destructive capacity `norwesters’ are also referred to as tornadoes.

“For nearly 60 days during the two storm seasons, locally generated storms have hit various parts of the country almost on a daily basis,” said Mahmudul Islam, a senior programme expert of the planning and preparation section of the country’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP).

“Modern science has yet to create an effective early warning system for these storms. They are so local in nature and take shape so suddenly that modern tracking devices can only locate them when they begin to move, at times with a whirling speed of 200km,” Islam said.

Added to this is a lack of comprehensive information on the storms.

The Bangladesh government does not maintain separate records of the destruction of life, crops and property as a result of `norwesters’ and tornadoes.

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
In Dhaka, trees were uprooted and thatched roofs blown away after a powerful storm struck the capital on 2 May
“It would be very helpful if we could keep records of the destruction caused by local storms. These are so frequent in number and so destructive in nature that the total damage done by them is perhaps only second to the damage caused by the annual floods. In terms of damage to life and property, they do more than the floods,” Dr Islam said.

Losses could me minimised

`Norwesters’ often strike when the country’s `boro’ crop is ready for harvest, and jute, a major cash crop for the impoverished nation, is at a critical stage of growth.

According to the department of meteorology, 30-50 percent of standing crops are damaged in areas where `norwesters’ hit.

“The crop loss could be minimised or even avoided if we could mobilise our people to change the pattern of cultivation, either by planting the crops two to three weeks earlier than what they do now, or by shortening the harvesting season,” said Islam.

Most of those who die, die indoors, crushed under mud walls or hit by flying tin roofs, he added, noting that the construction of disaster-resilient houses could save thousands of lives lost under falling roofs and walls.

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Damaged dwellings in Sherpur District after a powerful norwester struck the area
“The annual economic loss caused by `norwesters’, tornadoes and severe thunder storms is enormous. They kill and maim people, destroy houses, factories, schools, livestock and plantations. We must strive hard to find a way to minimise these losses. Building better houses, using permanent electric poles, adjusting plantation periods in a way that they do not clash with nature, are what could act as our shields against natural disasters,” said Arjumand Habib, deputy director of the country’s Department of Meteorology.

According to the Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO), Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of over 150 million inhabitants, is struck annually by natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, storm surges, floods, droughts, tornadoes and `norwesters’.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Natural Disasters


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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