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Death toll rises, relief operation geared up

Marrium with her 13-day old child outside her home in Shoronkhola sub-district, Bagerhat district, Bangladesh, November 2007. Thousands of people lost their lives when Cyclone Sidr ravaged.
Marrium with her 13-day old child outside her home in Shoronkhola sub-district, Bagerhat district, Bangladesh, November 2007 (Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN)

Aid agencies in Bangladesh are scrambling to provide relief to thousands of victims of Cyclone Sidr, which ravaged the country's southern coastline on 15 November and killed at least 2,000 people, according to the most recent government estimates.

However, limited access to affected areas and poor communications are making accurate estimates of the sheer scale of the devastation difficult.

Government officials estimate 60 to 70 percent of homes in the worst hit areas were destroyed. World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organisation, reported that more than 43,000 people had been made homeless or had their home badly damaged.

According to the Bangladeshi agriculture ministry, almost all the rice awaiting harvest in the affected areas has been destroyed, while shrimp farms and other crops were washed away, livestock was killed, and salt beds inundated in 15 of the country's 19 coastal districts.

Aid flow begins

A map of Bangladesh

On 17 November, navy ships continued to comb coastal areas for the thousands still reported missing, while helicopters dropped food, drinking water and medicine to areas where access was particularly difficult.

No stranger to such disasters, Bangladesh's military-backed caretaker government moved swiftly to mobilise relief efforts.

Fakhruddin Ahmed, the chief adviser to the government, announced an allocation of US$150,000 for each of the worst affected districts, adding that the government would solve the problems created by the cyclone on a priority basis. He also gave assurances that there were sufficient resources to deal with the post-emergency phase.

UN’s emergency fund

Meanwhile, in New York UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the UN would make available "several million dollars" for Bangladesh from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which was set up to expedite aid operations for emergencies.

"We will do all that we can to help, subject to what the government of Bangladesh would like us to do," Holmes told a press briefing.

The Brussels-based European Commission (EC) said it had released 1.5 million euros (US$2.2 million) in fast-track aid to help the most vulnerable.

"Preliminary indications are that the most pressing needs will be food, safe drinking water, emergency shelter, clothing, blankets and medicine," EC spokesman John Clancy said.

WFP biscuits

Photo: UNICEF Bangladesh
According to the Bangladeshi agriculture ministry, almost all the rice awaiting harvest in the affected areas has been destroyed

In a statement on 16 November, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced the distribution of enough high-energy biscuits - considered vital in the early days of an emergency when cooking is impossible - to feed 400,000 people in the affected areas over the next three days.

"People's life and health cannot be endangered," Douglas Broderick, WFP’s Bangladesh representative, said. "We all should come forward to save lives first. Dry food like high energy biscuits will be very useful, especially in these days when there is a scarcity of potable water for drinking and cooking."

Food is being distributed in several affected districts by UN staff, government officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

WFP and the UN’s Children's Fund (UNICEF) have a wide presence in the affected districts - including Jessore in Khulna division and Cox's Bazar in Chittagong Division - providing assistance to cyclone victims in coordination with other organisations.

At the same time, CARE, World Vision and scores of other NGOs and voluntary organisations have begun distributing rice, clothes, blankets, medicine, drinking water, baby food and other essentials to those affected.

Cyclones are an annual occurrence in low-lying Bangladesh, and the country has as a strong disaster preparedness system in place.

A cyclone that hit the country in 1970 killed about half a million people, while another in 1991 killed more than 130,000.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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