More than a week after the cyclone that killed 125,000 people, there's no end in sight to the tragedy and perils for hundreds of thousands of people.
Diarrhea is rampant, quick to claim the lives of the people - especially babies and small children - who survived the storm on April 30.Families have lost loved ones and all possessions - food, shelter, clothing. They wait, in anguish, fear and desperation, for succor from foreign and local relief workers to reach them by helicopter, boat or jeep. Anxious hands stretch out for hope and sustenance.
Reaching them isn't easy.
For example, an American-based relief agency's decision to rent a helicopter was no easy task - it was a $350,000 decision.
CARE, like the overwhelmed Bangladeshi government itself, had been hamstrung since the cyclone by its inability to get supplies to the hardest-hit, most isolated areas. Friday, there was the chance for CARE to obtain a helicopter of its very own.
Finding the helicopter had not been easy. Then again, nothing about the relief work has been easy.
Poor communication, inadequate coordination, terrible weather, unreliable transport and insufficient supplies have frustrated both the government and the many private relief organizations with permanent operations here.
Now, at last, supplies from overseas were starting to arrive in significant quantities.
Only an hour earlier, a Boeing 707 chartered by the American relief organization had flown into Dhaka from Connecticut carrying 35 tons of high-energy fruit bars, oat bran, powdered milk, rehydration tablets, clothes and blankets.
An Australian jumbo jet with 50 tons of high protein biscuits, drugs and other items is due on Tuesday.
CARE's job will be to distribute those supplies, and the relief organization hopes to get them to those most needy - a job that would be virtually impossible without a helicopter.
Obtaining one from Bangladesh's armed forces was out of the question. After scrounging helicopters from its neighbors, the Bangladeshis still had such a modest fleet that they considered it a major accomplishment when they managed to mount 15 sorties in a single day.
So CARE decided to go out and lease a copter of its own, assuming one could be found. And one was.
It was sitting in Rangoon, the capital of neighboring Burma. It was owned by a company in Singapore, and if CARE did not act quickly, it might be taken by a company in Indonesia instead.
Getting it would not be cheap.
Delivery alone would cost $40,000. The rental fee was $6,000 per day plus $600 per hour of flight time. And that did not include fuel or room and board for the crew.
Estimated total cost for thirty days - $350,000.
"I need not tell you that this is a major, major expenditure," Robin Needham, a British national who is the organization's assistant director in Bangladesh, told his colleagues.
But Needham wanted to do it, and so did the disaster coordinator, a Belgian named Jan Schoolaert.
"We're ready to use the helicopter the minute it arrives," Schoolaert said.
So the decision was made to go ahead. Then came the hard part, conveying that decision to the owner in Singapore.
Since the cyclone, the only place outside Bangladesh reachable by telephone from Dhaka on a regular basis has been Bangkok, capital of Thailand. So CARE had been relaying its messages to the outside world through a staff member in Bangkok.
After several hours of trying and failing to reach Bangkok, Needham went to a government-operated media center at a local hotel, where a special international trunk line had been installed.
Finally, he got through.
The staff member in Bangkok made the call to Singapore - only to find that the owner's office had already closed for the weekend. So final confirmation of the deal would have to wait, perhaps until Monday. Which was typical for this very atypical disaster.
"Normally a week or 10 days into a disaster, we get out of this quick-fix, emergency phase and into long-term rehabilitation," said Needham, a tall, thin man with a long face and shaggy, salt-and-pepper beard.
"That is not possible here," He added. "We are still in the middle of an emergency-response period that may go on for 60 to 90 days."