In schools, after movies and public functions, Bangla-deshis sing "My Golden Bengal, I Love You" - based on a poem that set the tone for the nation's 1971 independence struggle and later became the national anthem.

But to many, the lyrics that extol the Himalayan rivers sweeping across the country seem misplaced.The natural disasters that periodically buffet this impoverished, Wisconsin-size nation are being increasingly blamed on the great rivers that form a delta across Bangladesh.

Last week's cyclone is the latest in the series of calamities in the lowlands.

The delta floods during the summer monsoon each year. The rivers' inverted funnel-shaped outlets to the Bay of Bengal allow sea water to rush inland during a storm.

"We will have to endure floods and cyclones because of our geographical position," said Maniruzzman Miah, a teacher at Dhaka University's geography department. "But the question is how long."

Geological experts believe that a 1950 earthquake in the neighboring Indian state of Assam created a massive crater in the southern part of Bangladesh and as a result the land is sinking 11/2 inches every year. Most of the land is only 30 feet above sea level. Closer to the coast and on the offshore islands, land is only a few feet above the sea.

On their way to the bay, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers carry an estimated 1 billion tons of silt, which periodically form new islands off the coast.

Last week, these offshore islands bore the brunt of a cyclone, which was the latest of 21 major tropical storms to have ravaged the coastland since 1970.

Officials at the Flood Ministry say at least 12 major floods have inundated the land in the past 44 years.