Aid trickles in for Bangladesh cyclone victims

Aid trickles in for Bangladesh cyclone victims

With time running out for countless number of villagers along the southern coast, many of whom have eaten nothing in days, the head of Bangladesh's emergency government said the country was facing a national crisis.

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The devastation from last Thursday's cyclone, he said, was “unimaginable”.

Officials have said more than 3,400 people have died but the Red Crescent said it expected the final death toll to be between 5,000 and 10,000. Many bodies, washed into the Bay of Bengal, will never be found.

National crisis declared

“We are faced with a national crisis. I hope that the people will come forward to help those affected,” Fakhruddin Ahmed, the head of the country's military-backed government, said in a televised address.

Mr Ahmed said millions of people had been affected by cyclone Sidr and that the death toll was increasing.

“The destruction of houses, roads, trees and crops by the hurricane is unimaginable,” said Mr Ahmed.

Bangladeshis are famed for managing to endure frequent floods and storms that hit the impoverished and low-lying country — but aid workers said this time the situation was desperate.

“People here are resilient. However, the scale is such that it will take months for people to be able to return to their normal lives,” said Heather Blackwell, the Bangladesh head of the British aid group Oxfam.

“It could take weeks before we know exactly how bad this cyclone was.”

Offers of international aid have poured in — in total 140 million dollars had been pledged for relief and reconstruction, including 100 million from Saudi Arabia.

And Bangladesh army chief General Moeen U Ahmed pledged this aid would reach everyone soon.

“Not a single man shall die without food as the government has sufficient stock of foodstuffs,” he said while visiting the southern Bagerhat district.

Villagers in some of the country's most remote areas along the coast – one of the poorest places on the planet — have seen their homes and livelihoods washed away by a huge tidal wave, and are without food, clean water or shelter.

The UN estimates that over 273,000 homes have been destroyed and a further 650,000 damaged, and 876,000 hectares of crops ruined.

A long road to recovery

What is concerning many now — as they also struggle to cope with their grief — is how they can re-establish livelihoods in a country where 40 percent of the 144 million population lives on less than a dollar a day.

“There is significant damage to the infrastructure. There will definitely have to be longer term assistance to get people on their feet again,” said World Food Programme country representative Douglas Casson Coutts.

In the southern fishing town of Padma, hit by a huge tidal wave pulled in by cyclone Sidr, the wooden trawlers that the population relies on to make a living were smashed to bits.

“In about 30 minutes we all became paupers,” said Abdul Jalil, a fisherman, who lost his mother, son, a nephew and two fishing trawlers in one of the worst cyclones in the country's history.

“The sea has levelled all of us into a community united by poverty,” said fisherman Jahangir Khan.

Many distraught villagers in the area told AFP they had not yet received any assistance.

World Bank offers $250m

Meanwhile, the World Bank said it would provide up to 250 million dollars to the poor nation.

“This is a horrible shock to Bangladesh and our sympathies are with the thousands of families who have lost loved ones; with the millions who have lost livelihoods and shelter” said Xian Zhu, World Bank country director in Bangladesh.

He said the World Bank was willing to make up to 250 million dollars available to the government, depending on its financing needs and what other donors brought to the table.

The Bank provided some 75 million dollars to the country in response to massive floods in August and September.