Concern is mounting for the safety of hundreds of thousands of children as India braces for Cyclone Yaas, expected to hit the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha tomorrow, local time. The cyclone comes soon after Cyclone Tauktae, which battered India’s west coast last week.

Heavy rains and flooding in West Bengal, India (Archive image)

Government agencies are helping people to evacuate their homes to safer areas. But as people flee their homes for shelters while the country continues to grapple with a massive outbreak of COVID-19, Save the Children is concerned that the cyclone risks spreading infections further. Many cyclone shelters are currently being used as COVID-19 care centres, limiting the space available for those seeking refuge from the storm.

Chittapriyo Sadhu, Deputy Director of Programme Management at Save the Children India, said: 

Hundreds of thousands of children and their families risk being left homeless, forced to sleep outside or with relatives and friends as cyclone Yaas approaches, leaving them unable to follow social distancing guidelines and at risk of being exposed to the virus.  

“With the country still reeling from the fallout of COVID-19 and the devastating loss of live we’ve seen here in recent weeks, another life-threatening cyclone is the last thing India needs. Many families have already lost their homes and their livelihoods because of the pandemic, and disasters like these put even more pressure on areas already struggling to cope. 

“Thousands of homes are at risk of being destroyed as well as huge swathes of cropland and farm animals that families depend on for food and income. West Bengal has the highest rate of child marriage in India and we’re extremely concerned that if families lose their incomes it will trigger higher numbers of children being married off or forced into child labour. Child trafficking is also rife in this area of the country and when disaster hits, children are exposed to an even greater risk of exploitation.

“Save the Children’s humanitarian teams are standing by to respond after the cyclone hits, to assess the needs of families and children and ensure that children are kept safe from trafficking and abuse.”