Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The fund-raising campaign launched on 19 November by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) to help Bangladesh after it was devastated by cyclone Sidr has reached almost 50,000 euros. PIME is working in some villages in the southern part of the country affected by the natural disaster in coordination with Xaverian missionaries based in Khulna. The local bishop, Mgr Bejoy N. D’Cruze, reports from there on how his community is coping with the great needs of the displaced people. Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic organisation that collaborates with PIME, yesterday launched an appeal for 6.5 million euros needed for emergency relief and reconstruction.
Caritas has so far handed out food to at least 51,000 families from Baribal and Khulna, where more than 25 per cent of the housing stock was destroyed. The Caritas Confederation will provide clean water, cooking utensils and blankets for 24,000 families. It is also planning to build 50 anti-cyclone shelters over the next two years.
According to the latest figures released by the Bangladeshi civil defence agency, cyclone Sidr, which struck on 15 November, killed 3,246 people with another 880 still missing.
Overall the cyclone affected some six million people one way or another, and wiped out the Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Material and economic losses are huge. More than two million acres of farmland have been damaged. Livestock sustained heavy losses with an estimated 350,000 heads of cattle and other ruminants as well as poultry killed. Fishing and shrimp production have also experienced heavy losses.
Dhaka does not foresee any food crisis before March 2008, but is trying to increase its reserves.
Tapan Chowdhury, a consultant with the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, said that the government has asked international donors for at least 500,000 tonnes of rice in order to prevent any possible crisis.
The bishop of Khukna’s account
In a letter from Khulna, the local bishop, Mgr Bejoy N. D’Cruze, describes the tragedy that his diocese is facing. Some 500 catholic families have lost their homes; some residents have died of pneumonia.
“Five of our 11 parishes near Sunderbans have suffered heavy losses. Mongla and Chalna are the most affected,” the prelate said. “The cyclone hit 25 villages near the forest, where people live off the land and from fishing.”
“Hundreds and hundreds” of homes have been damaged and are in need of repair. In some locations in the Sunderbans, people are still taking shelter at schools run by the diocese.
“Our churches, schools and health care facilities have saved the lives of thousands of people of every creed and social background,” the letter said.
The Church in Khulna is still much involved in emergency relief operations.
“Some doctors from the Diocesan Health Commission are directly involved helping the sick,” the bishop added.
“Religious congregations in the diocese and parishes from the city of Khulna are working hard to help people affected by the cyclone.”
As it waits for more donations the diocese is using what is left from the ‘2007 flooding fund’ that was set up last summer to cope with another emergency.