/ 22 November 2007

Bangladesh faces second wave of death

The Bangladesh government pledged on Thursday to feed more than two million people left destitute by Cyclone Sidr amid warnings the country faces acute food shortages after the storm ravaged crops.

The pledge comes as officials and relief agencies struggle to get desperately needed rice, drinking water and tents to remote villages wrecked by the November 15 storm, which killed more than 3 100 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The government will distribute 15kg of rice per month to each of the estimated 2,5-million people, many of them in crowded relief camps, starting on December 1, said Tapan Chowdhoury, the government’s adviser on food and disaster management. The programme will last at least four months, he said.

Kelly Stevenson, the Bangladesh director of Save the Children, said the charity estimates that 50% to 90% of the region’s rice crop has been destroyed, leaving up to three million people at risk of food shortages over the next six months.

The government said on Wednesday it had promises of $390-million in international aid, much of it from a $250-million pledge from the World Bank.

But in the short term, aid workers were struggling to get enough aid to the devastated coastal region, where a shortage in supplies has led to fistfights among survivors at relief centres.

”Thousands of families are facing the real possibility of a second wave of death that can result from lack of clean water, food, shelter and medical supplies,” said Stevenson.

In Tafalbari, a dusty village of crushed tin huts and flooded fields, violence broke out Wednesday outside a relief centre as desperate villagers fought each other after hours of waiting fruitlessly for aid.

Several thousand people surrounded a small relief station set up by a local aid agency that was forced to shut its gates, admitting just a few people at a time.

”I didn’t have enough food before the storm hit,” said Juddistir Chandar Das (45) who lost the home he shared with his wife and three children. ”We have hardly eaten at all since the storm.”

With many drinking water wells destroyed by the cyclone, the need for clean water was becoming critical to ward off deadly waterborne diseases.

”We remain concerned about possible outbreaks of cholera and severe diarrhea due to the lack of access to clean water,” said Stevenson.

By late Wednesday the official death toll stood at 3 167, Lieutenant Colonel Main Ullah Chowdhury, spokesperson for the army that is coordinating the relief and rescue work.

The Disaster Management Ministry said 1 724 people were missing and 28 188 people had been injured. It said the cyclone destroyed 458 804

houses and partially damaged another 665 529. – Sapa-AP