The human misery of displaced Kurds overwhelms even relief efforts enjoying the logistical support of a mighty war machine. More than a million people in Ethiopia will run out of food within two weeks, according to a relief agency operating there. Yet these man-made or -exacerbated catastrophes pale in comparison to the dead (already 125,000) and homeless (ten million, give or take) from the fury of the cyclone that sent the Bay of Bengal surging up the river channels in eastern Bangladesh, submerging whole islands.
The storm hit last Tuesday. The worst damage was Friday as the rains flooded downstream. Now more wind and rain is expected. Bangladesh, with 110 million people and 17 helicopters, has an annual per capita income is $170. Yet the 20-foot waves that overwhelmed the low-lying Bay of Bengal region were not so high as the 41-foot crests of 1876, nor the death likely to match the 500,000 of 1970. But it came when the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the Oxfams and Catholic Relief Services, not to mention the governments that normally mount relief efforts, were fully extended.
Some relief supplies were pre-positioned in the capital of Dhaka. The first planeloads of new supplies came in from Saudi Arabia. But distributing the blankets and matches and tents and water purification kits and food is something else. Roads are washed out. On the islands, people starve. India sent three helicopters. The United States and Japan pledged comparative pittances. Asians will look for more help from Japan, as no violation of its constitution is required.