Cyclone-hit areas in Bangladesh to get food cards from Dec 1
Dhaka : As the need for food, water and other relief items multiplies, the government of Bangladesh, in collaboration with the armed forces and members of the humanitarian community, is working overtime to reach victims of Cyclone Sidr.
The category four storm, with winds of up to 250 kph, rammed into the southwestern coast of Bangladesh on Nov 15 killing over 3,000 people and leaving millions homeless.
Of the country’s 64 districts, 15 were affected, 11 of them badly.
From Dec 1 the government will introduce special Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) cards to 2.5 million people in the cyclone-hit areas, providing 15kg of rice a month per cardholder.
Safe drinking water is now being supplied in the vulnerable areas, new tube-wells are being dug, and over 3,000 members of the armed forces are actively distributing food and relief items in remote areas.
The recovery of storm-tossed ferries and pontoons trapped on river islands is continuing with the help of the Bangladesh military. Already a number of ferries, pontoons and gangways have been retrieved.
Power supply has been restored in 48 out of the 56 affected sub-districts.
Telephone land lines remain down in nine sub-districts in the area, but the mobile phone network has largely been restored.
Over the past six days, the World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered nearly 95 metric tonnes (mt) of high-energy biscuits to over 650,000 people in the worst affected areas; using helicopters when necessary. From Friday, the UN food agency will begin distributing rice by road to the affected area.
To date the government has said it had promises of US$390 million in international assistance, much of it a $250 million pledge from the World Bank.
On Nov 21, the World Bank announced the funds, comprising of a low-interest loan and grant, which would support both immediate needs such as food, medical care and small loans for fishermen and farmers, along with longer-term recovery projects.
"Bangladesh is still in the rescue and relief phase, but as it moves into recovery over the next few days, our commitment is a signal to the government of the scale of what we can offer if needed," Xian Zhu, the World Bank's country director in Bangladesh, said.
Earlier in the day, the European Union announced $9.6 million in aid, while the American Red Cross said it would provide $1.2 million to help provide potable water to people and build emergency shelters.
Also on Nov 21, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it would mobilise money and material amounting to $20 million - with several donors, including Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden and the World Bank, already expressing interest in support.
Meanwhile, relief officials continued to struggle to get desperately needed rice, drinking water and tents to people in remote, more isolated villages wrecked by the storm, local newspapers reported.
In the village of Tafalbari in Bagerhat District, aid workers and journalists working in the cyclone-battered area reported fighting had broken out amongst a crowd of villagers who had spent fruitless hours waiting for food outside a relief centre.
Several thousand people surrounded the small aid station set up by a local humanitarian group - forcing workers to shut the gates against the tide, admitting just a few people at a time, while in the nearby village of Purba Saralia, relief officials used force to fend off a rush of hungry people pleading for rice.
Officials at the centre said the government had provided only enough rice to feed 1,200 registered residents, despite the many thousands more in need outside.
A few miles away in the village of Basal Bar, more fist fights broke out among cyclone survivors as thousands of people who had gathered before dawn at a food distribution centre set up by a local aid group, grew increasing desperate.
“People need more than what is being given,” Usha Misra, an advocacy adviser for WFP told the BBC. “Moreover, they need cooked food rather than cereals and pulses. They have no hearth or home where they can cook food,” she said.