Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 09:28 UK

Bangladesh cyclone diarrhoea fear

Displaced Bangladeshi cyclone victims

Doctors in Bangladesh say they fear an acute outbreak of diarrhoea after Cyclone Aila hit the country and the Indian state of West Bengal on Monday.

They say that many in the storm-hit areas now face acute clean water shortages as floodwater becomes stagnant and polluted.

At least 200 people died in the storm in India and Bangladesh, with officials warning the final toll could be higher.

Nearly half a million people are homeless following the storm.

Relief officials say many more corpses are still to be recovered from the slowly receding flood waters.

'Acute shortage'

A large-scale military and civilian relief operation is under way in Bangladesh and West Bengal, with stranded communities in both countries complaining that aid has been slow to arrive.

"There's an acute shortage of drinking water and as a result diarrhoea has broken out," Lutsur Rahman Khan, medical chief of Bangladesh's Khulna district, told the AFP news agency.

"The situation is bad and it's a race against time to prevent a full-scale epidemic from breaking out."

He said that several levees had been washed away by the cyclone, particularly in areas adjoining the Indian border, which meant that some areas are repeat-flooded every time there is a high tide.

Matters had been made worse because salty water could not be treated with purification tablets while water-treatment facilities brought in by the army were also unable to purify sea water, he said.

The contamination of surface water by the tidal surges has also prompted fears that crops over the next year will be damaged in areas of subsistence agriculture.

The impact of the storm is worst in the Sundarbans delta - which straddles both Bangladesh and West Bengal - and is famous for its mangrove forests and rare Royal Bengal tigers.

The damage to the mangrove forest has been considerable and environmentalists fear that many tigers may have been washed away by the tidal surges.

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