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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 18:10 GMT
Food 'crisis' in north Bangladesh
Waliur Rahman Miraj
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

Flood victims in Bangladesh
The north of Bangladesh faces annual food shortages
A prominent Bangladeshi politician, Kamal Hossain, has said the prevailing food shortage in the country's northern districts could claim more lives.

Dr Hossain - the author of the Bangladeshi constitution - said the government should take urgent steps to feed millions of poor people.

His comments follow a similar warning from the United Nations.

The government insists no-one has died because of food shortages, and that it is doing all it can to help the poor.

Crops destroyed

Dr Hossain, a former foreign minister who now heads a small political party, said he was stunned to see the appalling condition of millions of poor people in the northern districts, especially in Rangpur.

After a visit to the region last week, he told reporters in the capital Dhaka that the situation was desperate as people have no income following two floods, which have destroyed crops.

"What I saw is the terrible face of monga. One person starved to death after I went there. And then I saw hundreds of people who have been reduced to skeletons," Dr Hossain said.

'Monga' is a Bengali word to describe the weather season in the northern districts almost every year in October and November.

It is time when food stocks run low and job opportunities dry up before the main rice harvest in December.

Last week the UN World Food Programme representative in Dhaka, Douglas Casson Coutts, said millions of people affected by the worst floods in decades required basic food and livelihood support for many months to come, largely because of the onset of the monga.

'Starving to death'

He warned that the monga this year "will be looking to claim far more victims than usual".

Although the government has launched a scheme to sell rice at a reduced price directly to the poor, Dr Hossain said it did not help many of the worst off.

"People are starving to death because they cannot afford to buy food even at a reduced rate in the absence of work," he said.

Kamal Hossain is an outspoken independent politician who the past has criticised both the government and the opposition.

His latest accusations have been strenuously denied by the government, which says that no-one has died because of the monga.

The Junior Relief Minister, Asadul Habib, said they were distributing enough food in the region to ensure that no-one starved to death.

He said his government has now decided to launch a micro-credit scheme for the northern districts to help people start small businesses.

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