16 November 2007 Responding to the arrival of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced the distribution of enough high-energy biscuits, considered vital in the early days of an emergency when cooking is impossible, to feed 400,000 people in the affected areas over the next three days.
“We have to move as quickly as possible to get food to the most vulnerable,” said WFP Bangladesh Representative Douglas Broderick, pointing out that the biscuits are critical “when there is a scarcity of clean water for drinking and cooking.”
Citing preliminary field reports, WFP said Cyclone Sidr caused hundreds of fatalities, damaged thousands of homes and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.
Within hours of the disaster, the agency started supplying the biscuits to affected people in areas that suffered the worst damage in what WFP said was the first phase of its assistance.
The agency said it is able to respond quickly to disasters and humanitarian crises in Bangladesh because it has ongoing operations there to support some 5 million people affected by chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.
In New York, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the UN would make available “several million dollars” for Bangladesh from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), which was set up to expedite aid operations for emergencies.
“We will do all that we can to help, subject to what the Government of Bangladesh would like us to do,” he told a press briefing.
The UN would launch with the Government a joint assessment of the damage and needs, while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for Asia-Pacific has established a task force to deal with the cyclone, and its team would arrive in Dhaka tomorrow, he said.
Waves up to 5 meters high inundated “almost completely” three coastal towns with a combined population of some 700,000 people, he said, adding that more than 20,000 houses were estimated damaged in the worst-hit districts, where at least 30,000 families were severely affected. He said these figures could well be revised upwards as more information comes in.
“Clearly it was an extremely taxing experience for the people affected, a very traumatic experience for many of them, even for people used to cyclones, as the people of that area are,” he said. “We don’t know what the death toll will be but clearly the damage – the damage to livelihoods, the damage to housing, the damage to crops, will be extremely severe.”
The Emergency Relief Coordinator emphasized the progress that had been achieved on cutting the impact of cyclones on Bangladesh.
The cyclone had been tracked as it approached the country and some 3.2 million people were evacuated to relatively safe places before it hit. “This preparedness did contribute to saving lives when the cyclone hit,” he said.
“The death tolls have been reduced dramatically from these kinds of events,” he noted, pointing out that a cyclone in 1970 killed between 300,000 and 400,000 people, while another in 1991 took the lives of 130,000 to 140,000.
“We don’t know what the death toll from this will be but it looks likely to be nothing like as big as those, even though it may have been a meteorological event of a similar size.”