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Top military official criticises cyclone relief distribution

A woman searches her home which was destroyed by Cyclone Sidr in Shoronkhola village, Bangladesh, November 2007. According to the villagers of Shoronkhola almost 20,000 people in their village were affected, while almost 3,000 dead bodies have been recove
A woman searches her home which was destroyed by Cyclone Sidr on 15 November 2007. According to the villagers of Shoronkhola almost 20,000 people in their village were affected, while almost 3,000 dead bodies have been recovered so far. (Tanvir Ahmed/IRIN)

A senior member of Bangladesh’s military has criticised relief efforts for victims of Cylone Sidr, citing poor coordination and mismanagement in the distribution of relief supplies.

“It has been reported that cyclone victims in some areas got large quantities of relief and sold off the excess materials,” Lt-Gen Masud Uddin Chowdhury, principal staff officer of the Bangladesh armed forces, was quoted as saying, speaking to a group of businessmen on 25 November.

Relief materials had hardly reached some areas at all, Chowdhury added.

Over 3,000 people were killed and millions left homeless when the category four storm slammed into southwestern Bangladesh on 15 November in what has been described as one of the worst natural disasters to hit the impoverished, low lying nation in over 15 years.

“There is enough relief material, but the distribution lacks coordination. In some places, it is chaotic,” Mohammad Ruhul Amin, a freelance photojournalist covering the cyclone’s aftermath said. “Just take the case of the Kalapara bridge collapse. It should not have happened if there were proper management of distribution of relief.”

Dozens of people were reported injured and at least one person died when a 30-foot section of the 500-foot bridge fell into a river in Kalapara sub-district on 24 November.

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Uneven distribution

According to Amin, those who live beside the roads get more relief material than they need while those in far flung areas, especially offshore and remote islands, along with inaccessible villages, are not even getting the minimum.

However, better coordination in the distribution of relief is just part of the problem.

In the severely affected sub-district of Morrelganj in Bagerhat District, residents claim that local administration officials had not distributed relief pending “instructions from above”.

“Bureaucratic high handedness and lack of motivation both on the part of government officials as well as staff of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private organisations also adds to the slow and wrong movement of relief goods,” complained one medical doctor working in a relief camp.

“Relief distribution is a tedious job. It seems many of the government or NGO staff lack the drive and motivation to take the stress involved in distributing relief to the desperate people,” she said.

“On 24 November at Sharankhola, one of the worst affected sub-districts of Bagerhat, workers of a number of NGOs, voluntary organisations, political parties, cultural and professional organisations and individuals were seen distributing relief material among people on both sides of the paved road who already had received enough relief material, whereas thousands were in urgent need of food only a few kilometres away,” Ruhul Amin said. “No one went there because the cars did not go up to that place.”

However, one aid worker on the ground, who declined to be named, told IRIN: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen given the sheer scale of the disaster. I’m not surprised.”

This weekend’s coordination meeting between the government and business community urged all to operate relief activities in coordination with the local administration.

To date, Bangladesh has received pledges of international aid of more than US$500 million, including $250 million from the World Bank, and $100 million from Saudi Arabia.

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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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