The teeming relief camps for cyclone survivors can become breeding grounds for diseases, causing still more misery and death in the wake of the storm, officials say.
Officials of the Red Crescent society, an Islamic organization coordinating relief operations, said Thursday that food, drinking water, fuel and clothes were in short supply at the camps."This is going to be a very big tragedy," said Emdad Hossain, the director of the society.
As Hossain spoke in his Dhaka office, a radio receiver next to his desk crackled.
"Water, we need potable water, sir," said a voice over the radio. "People are dying of exposure and hunger, sir."
Hossain said it was a message from one of the Red Crescent's field officers, based in Teknaf Island off the southeastern coast.
"I am receiving similar SOS calls from many places," he said. "It's a very grim situation."
About 300,000 people are housed in cyclone shelters along the southeastern coast and on nearby islands, which bore the brunt of Tuesday's storm. Hossain said many of them were drinking muddy and saline water and eating half-cooked fish.
Other relief officials said the only way to prevent an outbreak of cholera or gastroenteritis was to begin airlifting in drinking water.
Those diseases, contracted from contaminated water, reached epidemic proportions after previous natural disasters in Bangladesh.
Massive floods in 1988 led to an outbreak of waterborne diseases that killed hundreds.
This time, the problem is more severe because of the difficulty in reaching the affected areas. Almost 60 hours after the storm subsided, helicopters were still unable to land in some flooded regions where victims were huddled.
A dozen helicopters are flying in and out of Dhaka, ferrying essentials to survivors. People were seen huddled on the rooftops of houses marooned by water, with apparently little chance of getting food or clean water.
Relief workers say officials have been able to reach only about half of the 65 islands which were in the path of the cyclone.