The head of the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization appealed Friday for food, medical supplies and seed to help Bangladesh recover from this season’s floods, which killed 1,500 and left the country devastated.
To repair dikes, rebuild railways and roads and improve flood control will cost billions of dollars, M’Hamed Essaafi, disaster relief coordinator, told a news conference. No final estimate can be made until the end of this month, when waters are expected to have fully receded, he said.
Essaafi came here from Bangladesh to make a preliminary report to Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who has scheduled a conference Nov. 16 to seek pledges of financial aid.
“Three quarters of the country were under water” at the height of the disaster, the relief official said. “By Sept. 17, 30,000 square kilometers (11,600 square miles) were affected . . . (involving) nearly 45 million people. . . .”
Although the docks and airport of Dhaka, the capital, were put out of operation for days by flooding, Essaafi said, relief supplies are now arriving by sea and air. He said a shortfall of 600,000 tons of food has already been half met by donations from abroad.
The official acknowledged that flooding is virtually an annual problem and that much of the reconstruction begun after last year’s less severe damage will have to be redone.
“The root causes are the lack of dams in the countries where the major rivers rise,” he said, naming Nepal, Bhutan and China. “Deforestation of Nepal has been a great contributor to the floods.”
An international river commission was formed years ago, Essaafi acknowledged, but has made little headway in attacking the problem. He also said that although the U.N. Development Agency has spent $1 million to draw up a flood control plan, nothing has been accomplished toward realizing that plan.
Inside Bangladesh, he said, the most effective action will be to dredge the channels of the big rivers to allow floodwaters to flow more quickly into the sea.
“Just for dredging, it will cost billions,” he said.