The giant international relief operation to aid the survivors of the cyclone and tidal wave that hit the Ganges Delta on November 13 has at last got into full swing, in spite of alleged government inefficiency in handling the relief supplies.
The giant international relief operation to aid the survivors of the cyclone and tidal wave that hit the Ganges Delta on November 13 has at last got into full swing, in spite of alleged government inefficiency in handling the relief supplies. Supplies are now arriving on Hatia Island with the aid of US boats and relief workers of many nationalities. But the latest worry for relief organisations is the kind of aid they are receiving.
The operation had been handicapped by a lack of helicopters and shallow draught boats to ferry food and medical supplies to the remote, mud-plastered islands. At least 30 helicopters - American, British, French, West German and Saudi Arabia - are now at work dropping supplies. Nine US helicopters are dropping five and ten pound (2.2 and 4.5 kilos) packages of food, clothing, water purifying tablets and salt.
The Pakistan government flew in two more helicopters from the West wing of the country to join the two Pakistani aircraft already flying mercy missions. The two new helicopters were brought in over India, ending a dispute with the Indian authorities over Pakistani helicopters using Indian air space.
But now that the supplies are coming through to the stricken areas, relief organisations have had a appeal to would-be helpers not to send in supplies that have little relevance to the nature of the problem to be solved. Among items flown in by well-intentioned sources are fur coats, and nails.
The island of Hatia lies in the southern part of the delta. Official sources have put the death figure for the island at more than 17,000 but only about 750 corpses have been found. the others were apparently washed out to sea by the fierce undertow of the receding tidal wave. Those that have been washed back have either been piled into hastily-constructed mass graves, or lie purifying in the open. The stench of rotting corpses combine with the stench from the carcasses of dead cattle, spreading the sickening smell of death across the island.
From all over Hatia survivors descend upon the centres of distribution of the relief supplies. It is alleged that such is the confusion caused by red-tape that rather than have the survivors die from starvation while officials make inventories, fill out forms and follow set procedures, some relief officials have begged volunteers to distribute supplies themselves rather than turn them over to the government system.
Now that its looks as if the immediate problem of feeding and housing the survivors is on the way to being solved, attention is turning to the next problem, that of making them self-sufficient again. It will be one year before another rice crop is ready for harvest. This year's crop was almost completely destroyed. Even the grain left standing was ruined by salt. It is estimated that it will be two or three years before fishponds are desalinated and start producing again. The government has promised to enter into an agricultural rehabilitation programme again, but that is likely to take years.
Some survivors have been put to work by the army and others have started work rebuilding as best they can.