Grim reality revealed in cyclone-hit Bangladesh

The United Nations says the humanitarian crisis caused by last month’s cyclone in Bangladesh is much worse than previously thought, with more than two million people in need of immediate life-saving assistance.

“As more information becomes available, an even grimmer reality is being revealed,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement released in Dhaka on Tuesday.

About 2,6-million Bangladeshis across nine districts need emergency assistance, and the total number of people affected by the cyclone is about 8,5-million, 1,5-million more than initially thought, the statement said.

Cyclone Sidr hit the impoverished South Asian country on November 15 with winds of 250km/h and a 1,5m tidal surge.

The confirmed death toll has increased slightly to 3 268, the number of people considered missing is 872 and the number of injured has been revised upward by 5 000 to nearly 40 000.

Damage to property is also more severe than first reported. Nearly 564 000 homes have been completely destroyed, 200 000 more than initially estimated, the UN statement said. Another 885 280 houses have been damaged.

The UN said livestock losses number at least 1,25-million, more than double an initial estimate, and the estimated area of cropland damaged has risen to 810 000ha.

Food, shelter and cash are the three greatest needs in terms of emergency assistance, the United Nations said, but sanitation, drinking water, electricity and livelihood assistance are also critical.

So far the UN Central Emergency Response Fund has disbursed $14,7-million for relief efforts in the worst-affected areas of Bangladesh, while international donors have contributed more than $143-million.

“As assessments are ongoing, additional funds might be required in order to provide comprehensive humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the storm, especially as new needs continue to be identified,” the statement said.

Aid request

Bangladesh has asked the international community for $1-billion to rebuild the country’s south-western coastal areas.

“As many as eight million face the bleak prospect of destitution,” Fakhruddin Ahmed, the head of Bangladesh’s interim government, told donors on Monday.
“We urge the international community to take a long-term holistic approach in helping us confront the challenges of natural disasters that continue to grow in severity and frequency due to climate change.”

A United States amphibious assault ship, the USS Tarawa, has arrived in the Bay of Bengal and began helping relief efforts on Tuesday, taking over from the USS Kearsarge, which had been distributing aid since November 22, US Marine spokesperson Rankine Galloway told reporters.

The Kearsarge had delivered more than 93 000kg of supplies, including food, blankets and water-purification tablets, as well as more than 63 000 litres of drinking water.

“Two medical teams provided medical treatments to nearly 4 000 patients’ cyclone-related injuries, like cuts, bruises, broken bones or diseases,” said Lieutenant Elizabeth Skorey, a marine medical planner.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s army chief, General Moeen U Ahmed, urged all NGOs and banks to suspend loan repayments in the cyclone-hit areas for the next four months.

“I’m requesting them to waive the installations for the four months ... if it could be possible, don’t force the affected people to repay the loan by that time,” he said on Wednesday, while receiving relief for the cyclone victims.

“To create pressure on people for money at this shattering moment is very awful,” Moeen said, adding that “the job of the NGOs is to provide help and support to the poor people, not torturing them”.—Reuters

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