DHAKA (AFP) — Bangladesh has sought half a million tonnes of food for hungry cyclone survivors, an official said Wednesday, as several hundred victims demonstrated to demand better distribution of aid.
The Bangladesh government said it has requested the aid from the international community as concerns mount over a shortfall of staples such as rice to feed thousands of people devastated by the November 15 cyclone.
"We need half a million tonnes of food by the end of March and already some donors have pledged to give substantial food aid," disaster management ministry official Ayub Mia said.
"We told the donors that if you want to give to us, give to us in food aid."
At least 3,400 people were killed and some 1,700 are still missing after the cyclone swept through impoverished southern Bangladesh in a disaster that also left more than 360,000 people homeless.
The World Food Programme has already promised 71,000 tonnes and the Indian government 50,000 tonnes. USAID, the US government's international development arm, had also pledged 10 million dollars worth of food.
The request for additional food came as frustration mounted over an apparent inadequate supply of aid, with protesters in southern Barguna town, carrying banners that read: "We survived the cyclone but will probably die this time."
"They were demanding more relief items. They said they had not received enough aid," local police chief Sohrab Ali said of the four-hour protest.
They told local reporters that despite the huge amounts of aid apparently flooding into the area, they had received only minimal amounts of rice in the nearly two weeks since the cyclone.
"We are in a desperate state," one protester said.
The country's military-led relief effort swung into a higher gear earlier this week after logistical problems, including rivers and roads blocked with debris from the cyclone, that had hampered initial operations eased.
Bangladesh's interim government agriculture minister C.S. Karim said the cyclone had left the country with a "substantial" shortfall in rice.
"The cyclone has destroyed crops in huge parts of the southern region. In some places, the only yearly crop has been damaged," he told AFP.
About 1.6 million hectares (four million acres) of crops have been lost, according to preliminary government estimates.
USAID country head in Bangladesh Denise Rollins said the United States had already responded with food aid after the government's appeal.
"The (Bangladesh) government has identified food as a major issue. The appeal has gone out and the United States government has responded with food aid worth 10 million dollars," Rollins said while handing over food and relief items to government officials in Dhaka.
UN coordinator in Bangladesh Renata Lok Dessallien has said food rather than money was the priority as the government's corruption crackdown launched earlier this year had put in place time-consuming procurement procedures.
Government food stocks had been replenished after widespread flooding in July and August, she said, but much of the aid being distributed to cyclone survivors had been earmarked for routine food assistance programmes.
"It is a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The food that is being used now is being diverted from other needy people," she said.
Meanwhile, about 1,200 people had been treated for diarrhoea, said Shahjahan Biswas, head of the government's health department.
"The number of diarrhoea cases is not many and is manageable. We have some 440 medical teams in the cyclone hit areas and each is headed by a doctor."
"So if things get worse, we are there to combat the situation," he told AFP from southern Barisal city whose surrounding region was the worst hit by the cyclone.
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