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Cyclone death toll likely to climb

A woman mourns the loss of her 18-month old child after Cyclone Sidr struck the coastal area of Bagerhat, Bangladesh, November 2007.
(Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN)

The final death toll from the devastating cyclone that struck southwestern Bangladesh on 15 November continues to rise, as aid workers struggle to reach survivors.

"The death toll could rise to 10,000," chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, Abdur Rob, told a news conference on 18 November in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, citing the nature of the disaster, the living conditions of those affected, as well as continued poor communications and access to the cyclone-hit area.

Six days after Cyclone Sidr struck, the worst in over 15 years, the official toll stands at 2,625, but that figure is changing by the hour.

"This morning I saw fishermen carry two swollen bodies ashore in Patharghata sub-district," AKM Mohsin, a photojournalist working in the cyclone-devastated area, told IRIN.

"People are desperately waiting for relief. Relief is coming, but the need is many times more than what is being supplied," Mohsin said.

"Those who survived the cyclone need to survive its aftermath. They need food, clothing, medicine, water and above all, compassion,” he said.

"Some deaths will never be accounted for and some bodies will never be salvaged. We do not see any more dead bodies around. But one cannot escape the smell of decomposing bodies emitting from mass graves,” Mohsin added.

More on Cyclone Sidr
Death toll rises, relief operation geared up
Killer cyclone strikes southern coast

According to the Bangladesh Food and Disaster Management Ministry, some 3.2 million people were affected when the powerful Category 4 storm ravaged much of the country’s southwestern coastal area on the night of 15 November resulting in large-scale devastation. Fifteen of the country’s 64 districts were affected, 11 of them severely.

Current government estimates say close to 300,000 homes in the low-lying nation were destroyed, while another 600,000 plus were damaged. More than 2 million hectares of agricultural land were destroyed.

Accurate assessments of the true scale of the disaster are still just coming in: “We are getting more reports about the level of destruction and the number of houses lost and people stranded. Immediate relief and longer-term rehabilitation efforts will be essential,” ActionAid’s emergency adviser for Asia, Unnikrishnan PV, said.


Photo: Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN
A man in Bagerhat district transfers what little remains of his belongings two days after the cyclone struck. Thousands of people are now feared dead and many more injured

Armed forces’ role

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's armed forces continue to coordinate the overall relief operation, with army helicopters, naval ships, medical teams and thousands of soldiers deployed in the area.

"All our men may not have reached all points of destruction because of road blocks and difficult ground conditions, but our helicopters are flying sorties round the clock and getting relief materials to all who need them," Lt-Col Mainullah Chowdhury of the armed forces division (AFD), which is supervising emergency aid operations, said.

There had been a substantial improvement in restoring electricity to the affected area, Chowdhury said, adding that only 25-30 percent of areas in the 11 worst affected districts were still without power.

To mitigate some of the suffering - in addition to US$5.2 million in emergency aid for rebuilding houses and the start of a vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme in southern districts - the government is considering steps to increase the number of VGF cards, and increase the per head allocation of food grains.

“The government may consider allocating 20kg rice per person under the VGF programme instead of the existing 10kg," Ayub Mia, a spokesman for the country’s Food and Disaster Management Ministry, explained.


Photo: Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN
A cyclone-devastated home in Shoronkhola sub-district, Bagerhat district, southern Bangladesh

Over $25 million in aid pledged

A full assessment of damage has yet to be made, but donor nations, alongside the UN, are responding, and have so far pledged over $25 million in assistance.

In addition to monetary help, they have also committed to provide rice, blankets, tents and other items.

Donor nations and agency representatives were expected to hold further talks with government representatives on 22 November to assess future action.

On 18 November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his mounting concern for the people of Bangladesh, stressing that the UN stood ready to do all it could to help in the relief effort.

Cyclones are an annual occurrence in low-lying Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of more than 150 million inhabitants. In 1970 a cyclone killed about half a million people, while another in 1991, killed more than 130,000.

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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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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