Bangladesh – Cyclones and Floods

Many times during its history, Bangladesh and the surrounding region have been struck by devastating tropical cyclones that have caused great loss of life and property. The majority of the damage is caused by water in the form of storm surges. Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to storm surge flooding due to the geography of the land and region.

The Bay of Bengal is an extension of the Indian Ocean lying between India and Southeast Asia. The bay narrows towards its northern shore where it meets the south coast of Bangladesh. This narrowing can act as a funnel, directing cyclones towards Bangladesh’s coast and intensifying them in the process. The effect of the storm surges that accompany these cyclones is very severe owing to the low, flat terrain that makes up most of Bangladesh. Ironically, this alluvial flood plain is very fertile and attracts farmers who grow crops in its rich soil.

The most deadly cyclones of the modern era struck Bangladesh in 1970 and 1991. The 1970 “Bhola Cyclone” killed approximately 500,000 people, while the 1991 Bangladesh Cyclone caused the deaths of over 125,000 and left nearly 10 million people homeless. The government of Bangladesh has attempted to prepare for future cyclones by building more than 2,500 elevated cyclone shelters in vulnerable coastal areas and by training thousands of aid and rescue workers to provide emergency assistance. As well, a re-forestation program has been initiated to plant green belts that, it is hoped, will alleviate the worst effects of seasonal and cyclonic flooding.