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Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 15:21 GMT
Plenty of agencies, but not enough aid
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, South Khali

As Bangladesh struggles to recover from Thursday's cyclone, debate rages as to whether the response to the crisis from the government and aid agencies has been fast enough.

Residents of South Khali village in southern Bangladesh wait for aid on Monday
Villagers complain they have not eaten since last week's cyclone

In countless villages visited by the BBC, we came across destitute villagers who complained that they had not eaten since the storm struck.

The village of South Khali on the fringes of the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest is typical.

When we arrived there was a large queue of people on the bank, desperate for food. They initially mistook us for an aid agency delivering supplies.

"Please, please help me," pleaded Feroz, who had lost four children in the storm.

"I need something to eat and my home is destroyed."

There was some rice being distributed by the army in South Khali, but they only had limited supplies. Soldiers had to use sticks to beat back desperate people trying to get some of it.

Too little, too late

This picture is the same throughout south-western Bangladesh.

Sayeed Rahman, a telecoms consultant who was in South Khali when the storm struck, speaks to the BBC on Monday
Just look at these people - unless they receive more help soon, many more are going to die from cholera and water-related illnesses
Sayeed Rahman
Telecoms consultant

Rarely do communities have no help at all, but often they have received too little, too late.

A low-lying country criss-crossed by rivers, Bangladesh is prone to cyclones and flooding. It should be used to coping with natural disasters.

Practically every single UN agency in the world exists in the country in one form or another, as do most of the world's aid agencies and NGOs.

"The reason why these people are not receiving enough help is because there is no coordination between the government and aid agencies," said Sayeed Rahman, a telecoms consultant who was in South Khali when the storm struck.

"Just look at these people. Unless they receive more help soon, many more are going to die from cholera and water-related illnesses."

Challenge

Maj Shahim, the army officer in charge of delivering the meagre amounts of rice being provided to villages in South Khali, admits there is not enough food.

Maj Shahim (top left), the army officer in charge of food delivery in South Khali, on Monday
Maj Shahim (top left) says it will take time to provide for everyone

"A lot of people are very hungry here," he said, "but we are too stretched to help them all. We will be able to provide food to everyone in the long run, but it will take time."

The government insists that the aid effort is going ahead satisfactorily, pointing out that it faces a huge logistical challenge to provide food to millions of people.

The interim Prime Minister, Fakruddin Ahmed, on Sunday said that the country's disaster management committee was "performing admirably in very difficult circumstances".

His administration - like previous governments of Bangladesh - has been accused by some observers of providing unrealistically low casualty figures.

"The government always does this because it does not want to lower the country's reputation in the world," said Mr Rahman.

"It does not want to give the impression that it cannot cope with natural disasters," he said.

But ministers and UN officials point out that they have to decide where the aid is delivered first, before turning up to cyclone-ravaged villages with sackloads of rice.

"We need to target our aid and make sure it reaches the people who really need it," said a UN official in Dhaka.

"It's not something that can be done overnight."

SEE ALSO
Bangladesh cyclone hits poor hardest
18 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Bangladesh toll more than 2,000
18 Nov 07 |  South Asia
Animated guide: Hurricanes
01 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
What is the South Asia monsoon?
03 Aug 07 |  South Asia

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