Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Bangladesh embankments 'must be rebuilt'

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka

Displaced Bangladeshi cyclone victims
More than 200,000 people lost their homes in Cyclone Aila

Aid agencies have called on the Bangladeshi government to urgently speed up work rebuilding hundreds of kilometres of coastal embankments.

The embankments were destroyed by a cyclone last May.

The agencies have warned that repairs must be done by the end of March, when high tides and storms are expected.

They say that unless the work is completed, more than 200,000 homeless people will have to face another monsoon in appalling conditions.

This would be "inhuman and unacceptable on any grounds, and a serious issue of human and fundamental rights violation", the group of 20 relief agencies working in south-west Bangladesh said in a news release.

"We stress that the response and rehabilitation work that we have been continuing in the affected regions are gradually appearing as a waste of limited resources, unless embankments are reconstructed and repaired," the group, which includes Oxfam, Care, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and Muslim Aid, added.

It is an unusually strong statement - reflecting the aid agencies' deep frustration with the slow response of the authorities.

'Full swing'

When Cyclone Aila crashed into Bangladesh, it destroyed more than 700km (434 miles) of coastal embankments.

Sea water rushed through the gaps, flooding villages and fields.

More than 200,000 people lost their homes and livelihoods - and most of them are now living in squalid, makeshift shelters, squeezed together on the surviving strips of raised land.

The obvious solution was to repair the embankments as soon as possible. Tenders for the work only went out in December.

The government agency responsible for the repairs said it has been able to fix up to 450km (279 miles) of embankments and is confident of completing the job in time.

"We can repair the damaged embankments by March. Our activities are going on full swing," Habibur Rahman, director general of the Bangladesh Water Development Board told the BBC.

But many aid workers in the region doubt that this is possible.

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