NEW DELHI (Reuters AlertNet) - Hundreds of thousands of people are stranded with no food, water and shelter four days after cyclone Aila washed away roads and submerged villages in Bangladesh and India, aid agencies said.
The cyclone hit parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India on Monday, triggering tidal surges and floods and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes.
At least 275 people have died, and officials say the death toll could mount due to epidemics in the cyclone’s aftermath.
As aid workers and authorities scramble to distribute relief to people in West Bengal and Bangladesh’s coastal belt, fears are growing for thousands of marooned families who are in more remote and inaccessible locations.
In West Bengal at least 5.1 million people were displaced, with more than one million people stranded in the Sundarban islands alone, most of them without any food or water, officials said. At least 100 people have died in the eastern state.
“The tidal surges and floods triggered by Aila have washed away roads, damaged bridges and submerged fields,” said John Gomes, communications officer for World Vision in Bangladesh. “Some areas are just totally inaccessible as they are underwater and there are simply not enough boats to get relief out to these people who are sleeping out in the open with no shelter.”
The Indian air force has begun air-dropping supplies in the remote Sundarban Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Witnesses said people scampered to grab the packets of pre-cooked food, water and medicines.
But aid workers say many villages in South 24 Parganas district are cut off completely and have not seen any relief from aid agencies or local authorities.
“The government relief has still not reached many islands that are under storm water,” said Ashok Nayak, an ActionAid relief worker in the area.
“There are many who are not in shelters and need help urgently. Even basic relief like drinking water and food is not reaching all.”
Aid workers are also concerned that a lack of clean drinking water and poor sanitary conditions will speed up the spread of water-borne disease.
There are already cases of diarrhoea and dysentery, and concern is mounting over a possible outbreak of cholera.
The death toll from Aila in Bangladesh touched 175 after 15 bodies were found on Thursday, mostly in southwestern Satkhira district, local officials and aid workers said on Friday.
Hundreds of people were missing in the 15 affected districts, mostly on the coasts, where survivors desperately need food and drinking water.
Affected communities, mainly farmers and fishermen, have lost their livelihoods. Rice paddy fields have been contaminated with saline water, tens of thousands of poultry and livestock have been killed and fishing boats destroyed.
Aid workers in Bangladesh said hundreds of villages in the districts of Patuakhali, Satkhira and Khulna were inundated. Residents have been marooned on top of river embankments or on fishing boats waiting to be rescued and given some food and water.
“We’ve just been to a village in a remote island in Khulna district and there are about 50,000 people stranded on top of river embankments there,” said A.B.M. Saidur Rahman, a logistics officer for the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“No one has reached them as it is very difficult to get there - we had to get a fishing trawler to take us there and that took 4 and a half hours and we almost got stranded coming back.”
Rahman said survivors were asking for clean water as their children are getting sick drinking the salt water from the sea. There are concerns that those in the more remote areas will be neglected as the logistical requirements to reach these communities are much more challenging.
The cyclone-prone areas in the Bay of Bengal are made of island deltas which are only accessible by boats and ferries, and aid workers say this is why relief efforts often focus on the villages near the roads and easier-to- reach areas.
“Aid agencies do not have the resources such as boats to get relief to these people in remote areas so we end up relying in the coastguard, army and navy to do it but even they can’t reach everyone,” said Paras Mani Tamang, ActionAid Bangladesh’s emergencies advisor for Asia.”
He said as part of a proper disaster risk reduction strategy, the humanitarian community should look at securing boats given that cyclones occur in the region annually.