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Cablegate: Impressions Following Overflight of Sidr Affected Areas

VZCZCXRO4464
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1834/01 3281548
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241548Z NOV 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5625
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 9369
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0397
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 8259
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 1010
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0578
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0028
RUEKDIA/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001834

SIPDIS

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 SOCI PINR PREL BG
SUBJECT: IMPRESSIONS FOLLOWING OVERFLIGHT OF SIDR AFFECTED AREAS

DHAKA 00001834 001.2 OF 002


1. SUMMARY: DATT, Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) Chief,
CONOff and six members of III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF)'s
Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team (HAST), accompanied by a
Bangladesh military officer, November 20 flew in a host nation
military helicopter to survey damage from Cyclone SIDR and evaluate
possible U.S. military Humanitarian Response/Disaster Relief (HA/DR)
efforts. Initial impressions were that major infrastructure, like
bridges and concrete buildings, largely survived even in hard-hit
areas. However, other infrastructure, including road embankments and
power lines, was severely affected. Large swaths of cropland were
visibly damaged and less robust dwellings, such as those constructed
of corrugated iron sheeting, sustained substantial destruction.
Bangladeshi military and Coast Guard vessels were visible in several
locations distributing aid supplies. END SUMMARY.

INITIAL LEG - DHAKA TO MONGLA

2. CONOff, who is working as pol-mil liaison during cyclone relief
efforts, had the opportunity to join a November 20 military
assessment of areas affected by Cyclone Sidr. The flight departed
Dhaka and flew south-southwest towards the port at Mongla, the
second largest port in Bangladesh, in Khulna division. The port
facility in Mongla was not visibly damaged from our altitude of
1,000 ft. Multiple ships, including two Bangladeshi Navy or Coast
Guard vessels, were at the docks, and others were navigating the
waterways in and out of the port. Cell phones carried by the ODC
Chief and CONOff showed coverage here, as they did, with a few
exceptions, largely throughout the flight.

SECOND LEG - MONGLA TO SARAN KHOLA

3. The flight continued south from Mongla into the Sundarbans
mangrove forest. Largely uninhabited, the area began to display
damage to large trees. Especially noticeable in this and other
areas was that the tops of the trees were beginning to turn brown,
we suspect due to leaves dying due to broken branches. Waterways,
however, appeared free of large debris. Turning eastwards, towards
Saran Khola, we saw, for the first time, major damage at several
locations, including completely demolished corrugated iron
structures, boats washed ashore, and widespread uprooting of large
trees. Major roads appeared to be passable, however, as light
traffic was seen at several points, and robust structures such as
poured concrete buildings were still standing, as were cell phone
towers and bridges.

THIRD LEG - SARAN KHOLA TO BARGUNA

4. This leg took us east, roughly parallel to Bangladesh's southern
shore, from areas of mangrove forest to farmland, where we observed
large sw!ths of crops that appeared flattened. This is consistent
with the November 19 reports from Bangladesh Armed Forces Division
(AFD) that these areas have completely lost the current rice crop,
which was due to be harvested towards the end of November. (NOTE:
AFD predictions were that the next crop will not be for at least
four months. END NOTE.) Similar to Saran Khola, major
infrastructure points seemed to have survived, but individual
dwellings had clearly sustained damage ranging from minor to total.
In this area, a Bangladeshi Coast Guard vessel was at anchor in the
river distributing aid to a crowd assembled on shore using small,
local boats. Whenever the helicopter circled a particular area, a
crowd began to form at any nearby likely landing site. Two
different Bangladesh military Landing Craft- Utility (LCU) were
traveling the waterways loaded with white bags of relief goods.

FOURTH LEG - BARGUNA TO PATUAKHALI

5. Continuing eastward, as with other areas, we observed that cell
phone towers remained standing and cell phones showed service, even
when nearby houses were destroyed. The flight briefly paralleled a
well-maintained two-lane road that0had light traffic on it at 1030
a.m. Visible damage became less seve2e along this leg, with two
story corrugated iron structures showing no apparent damage from our
alti4ude of 500 feet in some areas of this leg. We also observed
local residents herding cattle out in the open for the first time*

DHAKA 00001834 002 OF 002


In some locations, river cargo boats were seen beached, presumably
by the storm. Relief efforts were also evident, with large crowds
receiving the same white bags as seen previously on the LCUs. At
Patuakhali, as we had since approaching Barguna, we continued to
observe severe damage to weaker structures as well as light traffic
traveling along roads and bridges; cell phones also still showed
service. The damage to crops continued the same as on the other
legs since we first started seeing farmland.

FIFTH LEG - PATUAKHALI TO BARISAL

6. Proceeding north from Patuakhali to Barisal, we arrived at the
principal airport in Bangladesh's central southern area at
approximately 11:00 a.m. With a 6,000 ft runway, the Barisal
Airport had already seen 49 Bangladeshi military MI-17 helicopter
sorties deliver 123 tons of relief since the storm hit; Bangladeshi
Air Force C-130 aircraft have also successfully used that runway to
deliver relief materials. The majority of the relief goods had been
distributed, but we were able to see the two different types of
relief bags stockpiled at the Barisal airport for delivery. One was
a 25 lb bag containing 10 kg rice, 2 liters of cooking oil, lentils
(a common staple food item), soap, and cookies. Bangladeshi
officers from the 55th Division explained this was designed to feed
a family for 7 days. The other type of relief bag was a larger, 10
lb bag with cooking utensils, mosquito netting, clothing, and toilet
articles; this kit is intended to be given once, one to a family.
These bags were donated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
pre-positioned in warehouses in Dhaka, and are clearly stamped with
a Saudi Arabian logo. Lt Col Ali, the apparent area commander at
Barisal Airport expressed frustration at the lack of media coverage
on the positive response from the Bangladeshi military. At the same
time, Lt Col Ali expressed a hope for the U.S. military to make a
contribution to the relief effort.

COMMENT

7. Gross infrastructure largely survived Cyclone Sidr, and loss of
life due to direct storm effects is likely close to an order of
magnitude lower than previous, similar storms. Bangladesh now must
face, possibly for the first time, a disaster of this magnitude
combined with survivors in these numbers. The immediate storm has
passed, but the task of re-establishing basic hygiene, potable water
production/distribution, shelter, and agriculture is just beginning.
END COMMENT.

PASI

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