11/21/2007, 00.00
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Health crisis follows cyclone as the first cholera-related deaths are reported

Two children die in Pirojpur from dysentery as cholera looms large over the affected areas. The government calls the situation a “national crisis” but downplays the threat. “Not a single man shall die without food,” says an official. PIME missionaries say that in addition to food and water there is an urgent need for expensive road clearing.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – A health warning has been issued in southern Bangladesh six days after cyclone Sidr roared across the region living 3,447 people dead in its wake according to the latest figures. The first cases of dysentery and cholera were reported in fact yesterday. But the most urgent emergency is the lack of drinking water as people are forced to use ponds and shallow water sites which have been contaminated by putrefying human bodies and animal carcasses.

The first reports of diarrhoeal death came from Mathbaria upazila in Pirojpur, where two children died yesterday. In Patuakhali and Barguna other reports indicate that many people have also been affected by the disease.

Doctors warn though that it is too soon to talk about an outbreak, but insist on an urgent need for chlorine tablets to purify the water.

Beside those already handed out, 200,000 tablets are needed in Barisal alone, a health ministry official said.

The Bangladesh armed forces, which have mobilised on land, sea and in the air to conduct relief operations, announced that they had reached most affected areas and the millions of people stranded out in the open waiting for food.

The caretaker government said that the country faced a “national crisis,” but downplayed concerns that food supplies were inadequate for the population.

“Not a single man shall die without food as the government has sufficient stock of foodstuffs,” Army chief General Moeen U Ahmed said.

In the meantime Caritas Confederation started its own aid operations by distributing food, especially rice. In a press release the Catholic relief organisation pledged US$ 2 million in emergency aid and announced that it had already started to distribute food to 120,000 people in the districts of Bagerhat e Patuakhali. Following this initial phase, the NGO said it will provide plastic sheets, bedding, mosquito nets, and cooking utensils, and then move into the reconstruction phase.

Missionaries from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), whose missions in Lebuhbari, Padrishipur and Gornodi were hard hit, are working in co-ordination with Caritas.

Fr Ezio Mascaretti, from Borishal, reported that in addition to food and medicine money is needed to pay for clearing roads of the debris left by destroyed houses and uprooted trees, an expensive task to carry out.

Moreover, “the government has appealed to the banks to grant easy and quick loans, but red tape is a great. It will take time,” he said.

Estimates of the economic losses due to the cyclone remain provisional. Crops were hardest hit with US$ 3.2 billion worth destroyed. And human losses could still climb to 10,000, according to the Red Crescent Society.

The difficulties rescue workers are encountering in cyclone-hit Bangladesh show the need for an effective and coordinated international system to respond to natural disasters, said Mgr Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, in a statement released by the Vatican.

According to Monsignor Migliore, the devastation in Bangladesh highlights the havoc nature can wreck anywhere in the world. For this reason it is necessary to set up a “coordinated and effective system that can respond to disasters.”

Not only natural disasters, he noted, but also man-made ones since man may bring much devastation with his wars.

In such a context the Vatican diplomat said that parties in conflict must respect international humanitarian law.

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See also
Cyclone Sidr: PIME launches fund-raising campaign as toll reaches catastrophic proportions
PIME: in ten days 50,000 euros are raised to help cyclone-affected Bangladesh
Hunger looms over Bangladesh after Sidr
Great response to PIME’s Bangladesh campaign
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims