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The worst cyclone to hit Bangladesh in a decade tore through the nation’s coastal regions last Thursday, causing widespread devastation. With the official death toll at 3,150, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, the country’s chief humanitarian group, predicts that the number could reach 10,000.
Winds of up to 155 mph and a tidal surge nearly 20 feet high destroyed at least 500,000 homes. Cyclone Sidr has affected nearly three million people, up to 75% of crops in the coastal regions may have been destroyed, and a quarter million livestock were killed.
Roads are cut off, telecommunications are down and rescuers are finding it extremely difficult to reach residents in outlying areas. One government administrator reported that relief is reaching only 1% of survivors. Many of those being found are severely dehydrated and in shock.
Bangladesh’s ActionAid International emergency coordinator stated, “Medical supplies are not reaching the needy as roads and telecommunications are cut off. Drinking water is scarce and…if we are not able to reach [survivors] in at least three days the situation will go from bad to worse” (Bloomberg).
One of the largest challenges relief workers are facing, besides the search for survivors in hard-to-reach areas, is keeping disease at bay. Inadequate food, drinking water and proper medicine create fertile ground for disease outbreaks.
Heather Blackwell, Bangladesh manager of the Oxfam GB aid group, explained, “There is widespread destruction of shelters, crops and there is a huge pile-up of debris of dead people and livestock. Concerns of disease outbreak are there as there are injured people in rural areas deserving medical attention. The level of sanitation is also poor” (Bloomberg).
Due to a shortage of blankets, many survivors have been forced to bury their dead by wrapping them in leaves. Mass graves are also being used.
Around $120 million in foreign aid has been pledged so far, though Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry is asking for more.
After Bengal cyclones killed 500,000 people in 1970 and 143,000 in 1991, officials took precautions to prevent deaths from future storms. Before the latest storm hit, a high cyclone alert was issued and over one million people were evacuated.
Charity organization Save the Children stated that the loss of life would have been much worse if the government’s preventative measures were not in effect. The organization’s Bangladesh director stated, “The good news is that many people have survived this disaster, especially compared with past cyclones, but the bad news is that most survivors on the coastal areas are left with nothing” (Bloomberg).