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Bangladesh (Cyclone Sidr)

Volume 468: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2007

Tropical cyclone “Sidr” hit Bangladesh late on the 15 November. In addition to wind speeds of 240 km per hour, people living on the coast were struck by a devastating storm surge—a wall of sea-water 10 to 15 foot high. The official death toll is 3243 (19:00, 26 November) with many more injured and an estimated 7 million people affected. The UN estimates that at least 2.6 million of these people will require immediate life and livelihoods relief assistance for the next two to three months. We know that further support for livelihoods recovery will be required beyond that time frame.

Although the cyclone has had a devastating impact on people, the casualties and damage could have been much worse without the early warning system and contingency measures taken by the authorities. The Government of Bangladesh have acted promptly to bring relief to the affected people and the UK is glad to be supporting this response.

We now know that approximately 1.24 million homes have been damaged—and the poorest, whose houses were mainly made of thatch have been worst affected. More than 1.84 million acres of crop land has been damaged, including a loss of about 800,000 metric tons of rice. Other impacts include loss of livestock—over 523,723 animals perished, damage to the fishing and shrimp industries, and damage to infrastructure including tube wells, toilets, schools, clinics and roads.

But relief is getting through. The Government of Bangladesh and relief organisations including the UN acted swiftly—food, water and medical assistance are now reaching the majority of people. However, because of the vast area affected—31 of the total of 64 districts—and the remoteness of some communities, there are still gaps in provision. In total, over US$191 million has been promised to the Government and NGOs from the international community. The Government of Bangladesh have welcomed this assistance and efforts to co-ordinate this relief are underway. This disaster has followed swiftly on the heels of a major flood which affected Bangladesh in August and September—affecting some of the same districts as the cyclone.

The UK Government were one of the first to commit funds to the cyclone “Sidr” relief efforts. The Department for International Development announced an initial contribution of £2.5 million within days. These funds, channelled through the UN, are already providing immediate relief in the form of food and safe water to 70,000 families, as well as essential non-food items such as clothes, blankets, mosquito nets and utensils. These are vital—many families lost everything they own in the cyclone. We will also be repairing the homes of over 16,000 vulnerable families, and paying local people to undertake clean up operations to restore essential community infrastructure, for example removing debris that is contaminating water supplies. DFID announced an additional £2.5 million on Friday which is being used for short to medium-term water, sanitation and hygiene needs. These were identified by our humanitarian experts as a particular priority. The partners we are working with—Oxfam, Save the Children UK and CARE International—are already using these funds to provide life-saving clean water.

I am pleased to announce today a further £2 million allocation—taking the total UK Government assistance to £7 million. These additional funds will provide essential non-food items including blankets, which are essential during the cold season which is fast approaching in Bangladesh. We will also use the funds to restore livelihoods and address ongoing public health needs. The UK stands ready to provide further support as required, and is pushing for improved coordination of the relief efforts.