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Bangladesh cyclone victims struggle for survival

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis, mostly fishermen, left stranded on embankments damaged by a cyclone a year ago, are still fighting a grim battle to survive, with the flow of aid to helm them spotty at best.

world Updated: May 16, 2010 14:34 IST

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis, mostly fishermen, left stranded on embankments damaged by a cyclone a year ago, are still fighting a grim battle to survive, with the flow of aid to helm them spotty at best.

Cyclone Aila battered parts of the Bangladesh coast along the Bay of Bengal in southwestern Khulna and Satkhira districts on May 25 last year, killing nearly 200 people in Bangladesh and scores more in the Indian state of West Bengal.

The affected areas are close to the world's biggest mangrove forests, Sundarbans, which stretches across a large swathe of the Bangladesh and Indian coasts, and was also hit by Cyclone Sidr in November 2007.

Journalists who visited Gabura -- the worst hit area in Satkhira district -- on a trip organised by international relief non-governmental organisation (NGO) Oxfam saw people huddled on river banks and suffering from hunger, disease, lack of clean water and sanitation.

While praising NGOs for their aid and not blaming the government as a whole for their problems, they said indvidual officals were sometimes corrupt, overall help remained insufficient and what came did not always reach those who needed it most.

"Corruption, mismanagement and apathy are among the causes for delay in providing aid, especially for rebuilding the embankments," said Musa Ali, a fisherman.

Dozens of riverside villages in the affected districts are submerged regularly during high tide, forcing at least 100,000 people to stay on the dykes, NGO and government officials said.

A similar number have left for cities to try to live by doing menial jobs, or even begging.

"If they rebuild embankments, they do it poorly so that it is washed away again and they can get fresh work orders" and funds, Musa told Reuters at his shelter.

The government has rehabilitated a majority of Aila victims, provided them money and materials for for new homes and given boats to many so they can resume fishing.

But those who did not receive such aid yet seem to have been left permanently in the lurch, said local NGO representatives and officials who declined to be identified.

And "like in every other areas corruption made things worse," one official said.

"The plight of these people is not going to end soon," local life insurance official Altaf Hossain told Reuters.

Gabura villagers said opposition political parties who usually blame the ruling party for failing to assist the needy also appeared to have shied away since Aila struck.

"Even they did not make any strong demand for giving us aid quickly or checking against corruption," said housewife Marzina Khatun, at Gabura, 450 km (250 miles) southwest of Dhaka.

"Hunger can be sustained but thirst must be quenched at any cost to save life," said Marzina, mother of two half-clad children who looked undernourished.