Kolkata, along with every other part of the world, has been dealing with the effects of the coronavirus. Lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing and travel bans have become the norm in just a few months, completely changing how we live, work and interact with each other. It’s been challenging to say the least but , like everyone, we seemed to be holding it together and figuring out how to adapt, as humans always do. But then this week, Kolkata was dealt another severe blow, one potentially even more damaging than the virus.
On Wednesday, Cyclone Amphan, the most severe storm this region has seen in recorded history, smashed directly into West Bengal and headed straight for Kolkata. We were told it was going to be bad but I don’t think anyone really understood just how bad until it hit with a force its hard to understand if you didn’t experience it first hand. Kolkata isn’t exactly known for its strong and robust infrastructure and so when a storm of this magnitude bears down on the city it creates unprecedented havoc. The gale force winds tore thousands of trees out of the ground and sent them hurling into homes and shops. In many ways these trees are the backbone of the city and provide most of the shade that helps cool down the city during the intense heat of summer. They help provide fresh oxygen, nutrients for the soil and suck up large quantities of pollution from the air. With so many ripped from the ground the long term effects will be felt in ways we can’t yet imagine. The torrential rain, assisted by the winds, flooded streets, businesses, slums, homes and even somehow managed to reach flats over 6 stories high through exhaust vents, window AC’s and elevator shafts. It was shocking to witness and is a strong reminder to never underestimate Mother Nature.
As is always the case those less fortunate, both people and animals, have suffered the most. People living in low lying areas, in slums, in poorly made structures consisting of one, maybe two rooms, have lost their homes and most of their possessions. Birds were killed by the thousands, an unknown number of dogs and cats have drowned or been severely injured by falling debris. Many will not get the help they need because no-one can reach them or even find them. The Animal People Alliance team will be doing its best to help as many as possible with the limited staff it has available. Most staff are unable to travel to work due to lockdown but we are fortunate to have volunteers in the area that are committing to helping.
As the days go on we learn more and more just how devastating the storm has been for the city and the region. The economic toll, for Kolkata alone, has been estimated at $13 Billion, a figure that represents about 10% of its GDP. The death toll in the city is nearing 100 with surely more to come. It will be a long road ahead, especially as we also deal with the reality of the coronavirus. Kolkata and all of West Bengal will overcome these challenges. I have no doubt about that. The people of the city are determined and strong and know how to deal with adversity, better than most. I hold out hope that an even stronger Kolkata will emerge from the destruction and start to realize its true potential. With your help I have no doubt that will be the case.