The US Navy has begun airlifting urgently needed supplies of clean drinking water to thousands of survivors of Bangladesh's devastating Cyclone Sidr, an official said yesterday.
More than 3,400 people died in the Nov. 15 disaster and hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless.
Severe logistical problems have since dogged relief efforts, leaving villagers desperately short of water, food and medicine more than a week after the killer storm struck.
Navy personnel from the USS Kearsarge, anchored close to the southern Bangladesh coast, are carrying out medical evacuations and transporting water to some of the worst-affected coastal areas, a US embassy spokesman said.
General Ronald Bailey of the Marines Expeditionary Brigade, who is overseeing the operation, met Bangladesh military chiefs on Friday to discuss how the US could assist the military-led aid effort.
Two more ships -- the USS Essex and the USS Tarawa, like the Kearsarge carrying helicopters, medical teams and with on-board surgical facilities -- are also due to arrive, US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander John Daniels said in Washington.
The shortage of clean water is one of the major problems facing survivors confronted with a growing risk of an outbreak of water-borne disease, relief workers said.
Difficulties are greatest in hardest-hit coastal areas where drinking water is usually supplied by ponds that are now contaminated by saline water.
In Amtola, a coastal village of 3,000 people where 20 were killed by the storm's 6m surge, residents said they were suffering intolerable conditions.
Monwara Begum said the cyclone had left her destitute.
"I told relief workers we are starving. We don't even have clean water and are drinking pond water which has had dead animals in it," she said. "How am I supposed to survive? I am sick, I am injured, I can't stop shaking."
Others said they did not know how long they could wait for relief to arrive.
"The only thing we have been given in all the days since the cyclone is two kilograms of rice and 60 taka [less than US$1] from the local government officials, and we have no food and no drinking water," said Mohammad Dulal, 30, from Garjonbunia Village, also close to the coast.
The entire village was washed away by the tidal surge, killing about 100 people. Dulal and his wife and young son are living next to the road in a shack made from tree branches and scavenged plastic.
"I am very worried about my family. If we do not get help, we will be here for months and the conditions are terrible," he said.
Meanwhile, shipments of relief materials donated by the Indian government have started to arrive in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Two Indian aircraft carrying packets of ready meals, water filters, tents and medicines have been delivered with another due yesterday, a report by the state-run BSS news agency said.
Bangladesh has also received offers of international aid worth more than US$200 million.