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The Catastrophic Cyclone of April 1991 in Bangladesh

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Natural disasters are those of which tragedies no one is able to control. They bring great destruction as well as life changing scenarios. An example of a natural disaster would be a cyclone. The best way to describe a cyclone is to compare it with a hurricane, they both are storms that spin around a middle point of low atmospheric pressure. The only difference of the two are that they occur in different locations, so they have different names. As current students in physical geography, we all need to be made aware of past, current, and future disasters because they enlighten us to understand the effects that come from them.

For instance, The Bangladesh Cyclone of 1991, was a horrific natural disaster that extremely released its meteorology in a form that seriously impacted the physical geography, the people, and the economy of Bangladesh. Between April 24th through April 30th an enormous cyclone rushed through the southern side of Bangladesh, which is in an area that is extremely prone to natural disasters in the tropics. The low lying area is in high risk of these tropical disasters, whether they like it or not. “The coastal land of Bangladesh (710 km long) is of recent origin formed out of the process of sedimentation. Most parts of the area are, therefore, low lying which can be subject to inundation even under ordinary circumstances of tides. A tidal surge accompanied by a cyclone storm makes the situation alarming which is further exacerbated by the triangular shape of the Bay of Bengal” .

The surrounding cities of the Bay of Bengal have obviously witnessed and experienced plenty of storms from the Indian Ocean. You could say mother nature is at her angriest when she makes her cycle through this specific area. Everyone who resided in this area, I would want to say, is adapted to the lifestyle of surviving natural disasters and recovering afterwards. The massive cyclone of Bangladesh in 1991 was a tropical disaster that had no means of easy going. It formed on the 24th of April and progressively grew worse and worst. The tropical storm started out in the northern hemisphere of the Indian Ocean, in the body of water, the Bay of Bengal. From there, it began to transform wider and consecutively more aggressive into the spectrum of the hurricane categories.

On April 25th is when the depression of the storm surged into a more intense cyclonic leveled storm. Although the cyclone was getting more and more intense, the next day is when it decided to shift towards the north western region of the Bay of Bengal. The specifics of the storm are, “On the 28th and 29th, as the system increased its 2 speed to the north-northeast, the cyclone rapidly intensified to 1-minute sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h), the equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. Late on the 29th, Cyclone 02B made landfall a short distance south of Chittagong as a slightly weaker 155 mph (250 km/h) Category 4 cyclone.

The storm rapidly weakened over land, and dissipated on the 30th over southeast Asia” (IPFS). As you can tell the winds were strong and very disruptive, as well as, with the water and debris mixed in with it. The high winds and tidal waves sent severe water risings in surrounding areas, in which, flooded the villages. Bangladesh hasn’t had any previous tropical storms that exceeded the logistics of this one. The intensity of the storm had drastically damaged the physical geography in the neighboring zones of the Bay of Bengal. The tidal waves were as high as 25 feet, causing extreme flooding, which ruined the coastal region and many agricultural farms. Enormous amounts of land erosion occurred even weeks after the cyclone struck, which made it even worse for the farmers and industrial workers. Seeing the specifics of the cyclone allows us to see and understand what factors may have gone into the survival of their people.

The citizens of the areas that experienced the cyclone were solemnly impacted in a way that will never be forgotten. Although the cyclone was huge and very disruptive, some of their citizens decided to stay in the area because they were loyal to the fertile land. With that being said most of which were swept away by the cyclone. In fact, “Best estimates put the loss of life at between 135,000 to 145,000 people” (Author). Majority of the people died from drowning in the tidal wave that tagged along with the horrifying storm. Other than being drowned the people endured explosive diarrhea, which was one of the only side effects from the storm. It was said to believe diseases and bacteria traveled through the waters of the cyclone. Not only did the cyclone, itself, take lives, the aftermath was absolutely petrifying for those who survived.

Millions of people were left homeless and they began to starve because the storm took out most of their cattle and crops. “Mr. Kader and his wife and three children survived because they were evacuated to a shelter, although they lost their house and their belongings. “I have been waiting since this morning for food, and so far there is nothing,” Kader said” (CSMONITOR). These people were very blessed to survive but the only hope they endured was for there to be food to feed them. This gives us a great insight on what it was like on a daily basis for the survivors. Bangladesh built shelters after the massive cyclone in 1970 and although they saved more lives than before, the number of people outside of the shelters were greater than the ones protected, “Although 95 per cent of the population surveyed had received warning of the cyclone four or more hours before it struck, the 300 existing cyclone shelters had capacity for only 450,000 of the 5,000,000 people affected by the cyclone” (Author). About 550,000 people were left unsafe and exposed to the cyclone. These poor people suffered from this disaster and were left with physical and emotional scars. In addition to seeing how this disaster affected the people of 4 Bangladesh, it also severely impacted their economy as well.

Dealing with such a tragic disaster obviously negatively impacted the economy of Bangladesh. If you really think about it, all of the damages that were caused by the cyclone had to get repaired by the government, which required numerous amounts of capital and resources. The government had to fund those who became homeless, those who lost their jobs, the damage that was caused, etc. The total amount estimated in damages from the cyclone came out to 1.5 billion dollars, so the economy definitely took a spiral downhill after this disaster. The list of things that needed to be repaired or rebought goes on and on, for example, “The cyclone uprooted a 100-ton crane from the Port of Chittagong, and smashed it on the Karnaphuli River Bridge, effectively breaking it into two parts. A large number of boats and smaller ships ran aground. The Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Force, both of which had bases in Chittagong, were also heavily hit. The Isha Khan Naval Base at Patenga was flooded, with heavy damages to the ships.

Most of the fighter planes belonging to the air force were damaged. The extensive damage caused the price of building materials to greatly increase. For an additional three to four weeks after the storm had dissipated, mass land erosion resulted in more and more farmers losing their land, and therefore, the number of unemployed rose” (Author). All of which were listed were excellent examples of how the economy was impacted by the natural disaster. The bridge, homes, and commercial buildings would have to get restored, which would have cost more money than before because building materials raised in price. The equipment that was destroyed for the military would have had definitely had to get replaced or else they wouldn’t have an effective military. There is so much more that goes into the economy, for example, they have to deal with starvation, disease, political disputes, etc. Not only that but they are going to need resources and help to get out of this crisis.

The economy of Bangladesh was already troublesome, before, but this event made it severely worst. The people were very frightened and worried about what, why, how, and where to. They couldn’t predict if they were able to make it out of this financial crisis on top of what they were already facing, “The cyclone – the country’s worst in two decades of independence – hit as Bangladesh was finding its democratic footing after years of military rule and seeking economic aid to combat destitution and suffering. Some Bangladeshi and Western observers wonder how the country and its government will be able to rebound from the crisis” (Cs Monitor). It seems as if Bangladesh hasn’t really had a grip on their economy in a while. After all of the natural disasters that has hit it in the past century, you would think they wouldn’t even have an economy left. Most people don’t take in consideration the amount of time and money that goes in to restoration of a city after a natural disaster.

The 1991 Cyclone of Bangladesh was enormous and played a role in which seriously impacted the people, economy, and physical geography of Bangladesh. Again, cyclones are very similar to hurricanes, in which, they both are disruptive tropical storms that form around the center of a low atmospheric pressure. The only difference is the location of whichever tropical storm is taking place. Knowing the aftermath and effects of the vicious cyclone really makes geography students, and everyone in general, more aware of what they are and the details that go into them. Not only does it make us more aware of what cyclones are, it also allows us the knowledge of knowing what natural disasters are and the types of them. Natural disasters are unfortunate storms that no one can control, but are storms that we can learn how to cope with once they occur.


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  2. “Health Effects of the 1991 Bangladesh Cyclone: Report of a UNICEF Evaluation Team.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, U.S.
  3. National Library of Medicine, June 1993,
  4. The economy: “1991 Bangladesh Cyclone.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Sept. 2018,
  5. Mahmud, Arshad. “Cyclone’s Aftermath Tests Bangladesh’s Democratic Leader.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 May 1991,
  6. Meteorology:
  9. 1991_Bangladesh_cyclone Mirror, Distribution. “1991 Bangladesh Cyclone.” Golden Screen Cinemas, 2017,
  10. Miyan, Alimullah. “Cyclone In Bangladesh: Response and Preparedness.”, 7 Sept. 2005,

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