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.
More than 3,400 people died in the November 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 says.
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, said US navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander John Daniels in Washington.
Water-bourne disease ‘concerning’
The shortage of clean water is one of the main problems facing survivors confronted with the 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 which are now contaminated by saline water.
In Amtola, a coastal village of 3,000 people where 20 were killed by the storm's six-metre surge, residents said they are suffering intolerable conditions.
Monwara Begum said the cyclone has 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 aid 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 a dollar) 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.
Entire villages wiped out
The entire village was washed away by the tidal surge, killing about 100 people.
Dulal and his wife and young son are living on the roadside 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 added.
Indian aid arrives
Meanwhile, 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 on Saturday, a report by the state-run BSS news agency said.
Bangladesh has received offers of more than 200 million dollars' worth of international aid.
A joint appeal by 13 British charities including Islamic Relief, Oxfam, World Vision and Help the Aged raised one million pounds in five hours after a televised appeal, an official said.
“This is an excellent start but we need people to keep donating to save lives and livelihoods,” said Brendan Gormely, chief executive of the charities' umbrella group, Disasters Emergency Committee.