BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 11:48 GMT
Q&A: Bangladesh storm aid effort
As the Bangladeshi government appeals for more international aid to help the victims of Cyclone Sidr, The BBC's Alastair Lawson looks at how the country prepared for and is dealing with the aftermath of the devastating storm.

What were the preparations for the Bangladesh cyclone?

The government's actions before the cyclone have not been criticised. In fact, they have received near universal praise.

A family stands by their makeshift shelter
People are homeless and many have not eaten for days

It is their actions after the storm struck that have been called into question, in particular their failure to deliver aid quickly.

At least three days before the storm struck, around 10m people were warned through newspaper adverts, megaphone announcements from mosques and on the internet - though given the number of people in this area who are illiterate, this last strategy may not have been so effective.

In addition, successive Bangladeshi governments have embarked on a comprehensive cyclone shelter construction programme.

There are now about 550 shelters on the southern coast and thousands of lives were saved because of them.

Some people argue that a key reason why the number of people killed in the cyclone was not higher was because it struck when the tide in the Bay of Bengal was low. Had it been higher, the tidal surge which hit the coast would have caused even more devastation.

If it is agreed that the cyclone warning system was a success, what, if anything, went wrong after the cyclone struck?

This is a contentious area. On the face of it, Bangladesh should be in a good position to deal with natural disasters. It has been hit by floods and cyclones on a regular basis since the country came into existence in 1971.

All the main UN agencies have offices in Dhaka, as do most of the world's aid agencies. The country is small and it is relatively easy to travel around.

The government argues - with some justification - that it is nevertheless a huge logistical operation to get aid to affected communities, especially in the remote Sunderbans mangrove forest in the south west.

The international aid community also argues that before delivering food and other vital supplies, it is necessary to determine what exactly peoples' needs are.

This also is no doubt true, but the fact remains that right now there are thousands of people in Bangladesh who do not have shelter, food and water - nearly a week after the storm.

Where has the relief effort gone wrong?

It might be that it has not gone wrong, and that the number of people who die after the cyclone will be relatively small. But the evidence on the ground does not support that.

Many paddy fields have been destroyed and there are a number of people who have not eaten since Thursday. In addition, there is the fear of water-borne diseases.

The principal criticism of the government and aid agencies is that they have not figured out a co-ordinated approach towards delivering relief to the worst affected areas.

Critics argue that it is all very well for western countries and the UN to pledge millions of dollars towards alleviating the suffering if there is no sign of that money taking effect on the ground.

What has been the damage to agriculture and the general economy?

The damage to agriculture will be considerable.

On the positive side, there is some evidence that farmers have saved some of their cyclone-damaged crops. It will not take them that long to re-plant destroyed paddy fields.

On the negative side, many subsistence farmers have been left with nothing and the future for them looks bleak.

The main criticism of the military-backed caretaker government before this storm struck was that it had failed to control the spiralling prices of essential goods. Those prices could now escalate - especially in the south.

The Bangladeshi economy has grown consistently over the last decade, like many other South Asian countries. But also like them, the disparities between rich and poor over that time period have become more pronounced.

Given that Bangladesh is low-lying and prone to flooding, does the country need more ambitious flood protection plans?

Bangladesh has floods every year. Even if it had the finances, it would be unable to stop them because they can occur almost everywhere except the hilly south-east.

You could have the most expensive flood protection system in the world here and it would be unlikely in the overall scheme of things to make much difference.

Some argue that the best defence against floods, cyclones and other natural disasters is education: so that the poor farmer is able to make an informed decision about the risks he is taking by refusing to abandon his livestock and go into a cyclone shelter

As things stand, how big a threat is posed by global warming and rising sea levels?

There is an interesting debate as to whether this cyclone is in any way linked to global warning.

On the face of it, it has nothing whatsoever to do with greenhouse gasses - cyclones have after all been hitting the Bay of Bengal since time immemorial.

But some climatologists have suggested that this cyclone was made worse because of the rise in sea temperatures in the Bay of Bengal.

That has still to be proven, but the full horror of the storm is likely to make the debate all the more intense.

UN relief co-ordinator speaks of devastation in Bangladesh

Aid battle for Bangladesh victims
19 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh cyclone hits poor hardest
18 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Animated guide: Hurricanes
01 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
What is the South Asia monsoon?
03 Aug 07 |  South Asia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific