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Cablegate: Gob and Political Party Representatives in Barisal Talk

VZCZCXRO8363
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1921/01 3450337
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110337Z DEC 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5780
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 9434
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0437
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 8323
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 1065
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0618
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0068
RUEKDIA/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 DHAKA 001921

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DCHA/OFDA FOR ROBERT THAYER
AID/W FOR AA MARK WARD AND ANE ANNE DIX
DEPT PASS TO SCA/EX
DEPT PASS TO SCA/PB
DCHA/FPP FOR MATTHEW NIMS AND PAUL NOVICK
ROME FOR FODAG
BANGKOK FOR RDM/A TOM DOLAN, ROB BARTON
KATHMANDU FOR USAID OFDA BILL BERGER AND SUE MCINTYRE

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PGOV SOCI PINR PREL BG
SUBJECT: GOB and Political Party Representatives in Barisal talk
about Cyclone Sidr


DHAKA 00001921 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Local government and political party officials in
Barisal gave positive reviews of the Government of Bangladesh's
initial response to Cyclone Sidr, as well as the role played by the
U.S. Government, including the U.S. military. The Barisal branches
of the main political parties responded in a variety of ways to the
post-cyclone needs of the district's residents; the Jatiya and
Jamaat-e-Islami parties' relief activities appear to be the most
comprehensive. All the officials identified the broad issues of
restarting the local economies and continuing to improve cyclone
shelters and other preparations against future cyclones as critical
medium- to long-term responses to Cyclone Sidr. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) EmbOffs staffing the Embassy's Liaison Office embedded in
the Civil-Military Operations Center in Barisal district, the
forward operating base for US-Bangladesh Cyclone Sidr relief
efforts, met district officials from the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party (BNP), Awami League (AL), Jatiya Party, and Jamaat-e-Islami,
as well local government authorities December 3-6. The officials
discussed their role in cyclone relief efforts and the impact
cyclone recovery might have on the caretaker government and its
roadmap for elections by the end of 2008.

Impact of the Storm in the Community

3. (SBU) All of the party and GOB representatives characterized as
severe the short-term economic impact of cyclone Sidr. They said
the most serious economic concerns are the lack of seeds and
seedlings for the next rice crop due to the substantial damage to
this season's harvest and the exacerbation of the already inflated
prices of everyday commodities. Former MPs from the Awami League,
Mohammed Afazalul Karim and Lasker Nurul Hoque, also noted that the
percentage of women killed in the storm was high and said the women
tried to save more of their material possessions and/or protect
their children instead of just saving themselves. A variety of
officials voiced concern about getting people back to regular lives
quickly and avoiding the emergence of a 'relief mindset,' where
standing in line for aid becomes preferable to returning to paying
work was a serious concern. (NOTE: Evidence of this 'relief
mindset' was observed first-hand by EmbOff during a trip through
neighboring Khulna division, also affected by Cyclone Sidr.
Observations from this visit will be reported septel. END NOTE.)

Party Responses to the Disaster

4. (SBU) The BNP's Nazimuddin Ahmed Panna said that while his party
was engaging in some relief activities, they were on a much smaller
scale than relief activities for past disasters. Similarly, the
Awami League members also did not indicate that the AL was mounting
a strong disaster response. In their meeting with EmbOff they
seemed more concerned with casting aspersions on their political
opponents' relief efforts.

5. (SBU) In contrast, both the Jatiya and Jamaat-e-Islami
representatives laid out detailed recovery operations. While the Al
and BNP representatives mentioned visits from central level leaders,
the Jatiya Party was specific in describing their high level
visitors, including the party chairman, visiting affected areas
November 23-25; he distributed 4,000 relief packets and 2,000 taka
per family, which suffered a family member killed in the cyclone.
The Barisal city Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muazzam Husain Helal, and
other Jamaat party members reported that 21,000 Jamaat party workers
in 16 different locations are currently engaged in relief
operations. They said Jamaat relief operations are based solely on
need, and assistance is being distributed irrespective of party or
religious affiliation. (NOTE: Our FSN translator confirmed
separately that on a previous visit to cyclone Sidr affected areas,
he personally talked with Hindus who were carrying JI relief
materials. END NOTE.) JI has published an eight point plan for
storm recovery: 1) food, 2) shelter, 3) economic rehabilitation,
including re-planting fields and re-stocking cattle and goat herds,
4) a deferment period and/or forgiveness of existing loans, 5) new 0
percent loans, 6) repair of existing and construction of new cyclone

DHAKA 00001921 002 OF 003


shelters, 7) repair of existing and construction of new river
embankments, and 8) the rebuilding of educational institutions,
including schools, madrasahs and universities. Funding for some of
Jamaat's operations comes from a request from the central leadership
in Dhaka to have all members nationwide contribute the equivalent of
one day's wages to a central relief fund.

Impressions of US military assistance

6. (SBU) All the political party representatives characterized the
GOB early warning and disaster response as good and the U.S.
assistance, including the U.S. military presence, as positive. Even
when pressed, most saw no negatives to the U.S. military presence,
as it is clearly for humanitarian reasons. The BNP representative
did mention that some Muslim fundamentalists were reporting that the
U.S. military had ulterior motives and was not to be trusted. While
he personally did not believe these reports, he said that there were
always some people who will believe anything they read and that it
was not a large concern.

The State of Emergency and Storm Response

7. (SBU) Barisal's Division Commissioner, who in theory has
responsibility for Barisal district and five other districts located
in Barisal division, all of which were affected by the cyclone,
commended the Bangladeshi military for its response, saying that
coordination was already close with all levels of local government
since the military was already in place as a result of the State of
Emergency that has been in place since January 11. This facilitated
a rapid response, not only to Cyclone Sidr, but also to the floods
over the summer. The Commissioner also confirmed that most of the
key relief activities remain coordinated at the district level, with
relief committees there feeding information to the central
government and then implementing guidelines from Dhaka, in
particular from the Ministry of Food and Disaster Relief, for
cyclone relief activities.

8. (SBU) Both the former Awami League MPs and the BNP
representative, however, complained that previously they would have
approached wealthy families for donations towards storm relief.
Now, both these political parties are hesitant to do so without
approval from central party and GOB authorities. The former Awami
League MPs did say that they had gone out individually to distribute
relief goods, and the BNP representative had also solicited
donations as a member of the Barisal Bar Association, but they were
unclear as to whether such activities could be undertaken by
political parties during the current State of Emergency. The BNP
representative also noted that donations may be lower due to
individuals' fear of drawing attention to themselves and their
wealth from the Anti-Corruption Commission. Similarly, the Jamaat
and Jatiya party members noted that they too felt restrained from
approaching non-party individuals for donations and that they are
undertaking current relief efforts without party banners. The
Jamaat representatives also said that they are not closely
coordinating with municipalities, as their perception is that
sometimes coordination meetings can get in the way of delivery
efforts and Jamaat's primary concern was to get their relief
delivered.

Elections Preparations Continue

9. (SBU) Voter registration continues in the less affected areas of
Barisal, even in the wake of Cyclone Sidr. The party members
generally agreed that by the time elections are expected in late
2008, Cyclone Sidr will not be a political issue, since by that time
the majority of recovery efforts will be completed and a new crop
cycle is expected to have been successfully harvested. They also
expressed general satisfaction with the roadmap to elections as it
stands, but all would like to see the ban on political activity
withdrawn or at least relaxed further.

COMMENT

DHAKA 00001921 003 OF 003

10. (SBU) The Awami League and BNP demonstrated a continued reliance
on their respective central committees for guidance, which appears
to be either lacking at this time or the guidance itself is to take
no action. The Jatiya and Jamaat parties displayed more
organization and initiative, both in what they described as their
party's activities and in their personal demeanors.

PASI

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