US Military Official Says Naval Ship Arrives to Help Bangladesh Recover from Cyclone

Friday, November 23rd 2007, 5:38 am
By: News On 6

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- The U.S. Navy was prepared Friday to deliver much-needed food and medical supplies to hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis stricken by Cyclone Sidr, a top U.S. military commander said.

The arrival of the USS Kearsage off the Bangladesh coast came as authorities and aid workers warned that the South Asian country faces acute food shortages after the devastating storm ravaged crops and destroyed infrastructure across a large swath of the country.

``We are here to help the people in their time of need,'' Adm. Timothy Keating, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific Ocean, told reporters.

The first ship arrived Thursday and Keating said a second ship, the USS Essex, would arrive in the coming days.

The ships are each carrying about 20 helicopters, which will help in delivering water, food and medical supplies to survivors in remote areas, U.S. officials said.

``We are excited to be able to respond to the immediate needs of the survivors,'' said Geeta Pasi, the top U.S. diplomat in Dhaka.

The government has pledged to feed more than two million people left destitute by the storm, which killed more than 3,000.

But since the Nov. 15 storm hit southwestern Bangladesh, officials and relief agencies have struggled to get desperately needed rice, drinking water and tents to remote villages cut off when rain and winds washed out roads.

The government has promised to distribute 33 pounds of rice per month to each of the estimated 2.5 million people in need, many of them in crowded relief camps, starting Dec. 1, said Tapan Chowdhoury, the government's adviser on food and disaster management. The program will last at least four months, he said.

Kelly Stevenson, the Bangladesh director of Save the Children, said the charity estimates that 50 to 90 percent of the region's rice crop has been destroyed, leaving up to 3 million people at risk of food shortages over the next six months.

Bangladesh has received pledges of international aid of $450 million, including $250 million from the World Bank, Food and Disaster Management secretary Mohammad Ayub Mia said Thursday after a meeting with donors.

But in the short term, aid workers were struggling to get supplies to the devastated coastal region, where shortages have led to fistfights among survivors.

``Thousands of families are facing the real possibility of a second wave of death that can result from lack of clean water, food, shelter and medical supplies,'' said Stevenson.

Meanwhile, several aid groups continued work to help orphans or children who were traumatized by the cyclone experience.

``Some saw their relatives killed by trees that fell on their homes, or they saw dead bodies _ something many of them had never seen before,'' Raphael Palma of World Vision Bangladesh said. ``They are still somehow traumatized and need support.''

UNICEF has set up special shelters for children affected by the storm, providing medical and psychological support as well as recreational activities, said agency spokeswoman Zafrin Chowdhury.

UNICEF was also working with local groups to place children orphaned during the storm with surviving relatives, Chowdhury said.

With many drinking water wells destroyed by the cyclone, the need for clean water was becoming critical to ward off deadly waterborne diseases such as cholera and severe diarrhea.

A week after the storm, bodies were also still washing ashore.

The official death toll stood at 3,199, said Lt. Col. Main Ullah Chowdhury, spokesman for the army. The Disaster Management Ministry said 1,724 people were missing and 28,188 people had been injured. It said the cyclone destroyed 458,804 houses and partially damaged another 665,529.