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Refugees face 'acute crisis' in cyclone-hit Bangladesh
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (AFP) May 31, 2017

Bangladesh navy rescues cyclone survivors
Dhaka (AFP) June 1, 2017 - The Bangladesh navy said Thursday it has rescued 23 fishermen from the Bay of Bengal and is searching for scores more missing since a cyclone hit two days ago.

Most were plucked from a sinking boat which had broken down, leaving them stranded at sea when Cyclone Mora hit on Tuesday, killing seven people and destroying thousands of homes.

The navy said its ships were conducting an "extensive search" of the area after the storm left a trail of devastation along the coast.

They are also carrying food, emergency relief and two medical teams to Kutubdia and Saint Martin's, two coastal islands that were hit hard by the cyclone.

"At least 15 ships have been deployed to search for survivors in the Bay of Bengal after the storm," a senior Navy official said.

"They are still in the sea and have rescued 23 fishermen from the water."

A navy statement said the rescued fishermen had been given first aid and food.

A navy helicopter and a maritime patrol aircraft are also conducting aerial searches for survivors, it said.

As the cyclone advanced on Bangladesh, local authorities increased the maritime threat to its highest level and ordered all fishing vessels to remain at port.

However Mushtaq Ahmed, a local fishing industry representative, said eight boats carrying around 150 fishermen had failed to return.

"We heard some 60 fishermen were rescued by Bangladeshi and Indian navy ships. If they're our men, we think some 90 fishermen are still missing," he told AFP.

"They could be moored on a island or adrift at sea. In the past we have seen that most of the fishermen return to their fishing ports within a week or two. We hope this time they will also be back in good health."

Bangladesh suffers frequent cyclones and fishermen are often reported missing only to be found in their villages after the storm has subsided.

Ahmed said it was the first time the navy had conducted such an extensive search for missing fishermen after a cyclone.

The rescues brought to total number of people plucked from sea the since Tuesday to 56.

An Indian navy ship rescued 33 Bangladeshi survivors on Wednesday, including children and women.

It was not immediately clear how the 33 rescued came to be in the sea, although some reports said they may have been swept from the shore.

Aid workers warned Wednesday of an "acute crisis" in Bangladesh after a cyclone destroyed thousands of homes and devastated camps housing Rohingya refugees, leaving many without food or shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in the overcrowded camps in Cox's Bazar on the southeast coast after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

Cyclone Mora battered the area on Tuesday, killing seven people, destroying 20,000 homes and forcing the evacuation of 600,000 residents.

India's Navy said it had pulled 33 Bangladeshi survivors and a body from the Bay of Bengal Wednesday during search and rescue operations following the cyclone.

Some of the worst damage was at the camps housing the 300,000 Rohingya, whose numbers swelled last year following a military crackdown on the stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar.

"There is an acute crisis of food, shelter, health services, water and sanitation facilities in the makeshift settlements following the storm," said Sanjukta Sahany, local head of the International Organisation for Migration which coordinates relief in some of the camps.

"The drainage and toilet system have been fully broken," she told AFP.

- Risk of disease -

Sahany said the storm had destroyed or damaged at least 16,010 homes in the makeshift camps and also seriously damaged clinics run by aid agencies for the Rohingya and the local community.

Aid workers scrambled to get food to the camps, which house around 300,000 Rohingya, many of whom were observing the Ramadan fast when the cyclone struck.

"We are also repairing community structures and schools so that families that are sleeping in the open can move inside until their sheds can be repaired," said John McKissick, who heads the Cox's Bazar office of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Refugees have said they were given no official warning of the storm and were unable to salvage stockpiles of food for the breaking of the fast when it hit.

"No charities came to offer food. Some people shared a small piece of bread between a group of four," community leader Mohammad Rafique Habib told AFP.

"Pregnant women, children and the elderly are suffering most."

Abdul Matin, who lives in a camp for unregistered Rohingya refugees, told AFP many had crowded into schools and mosques for the night, while others were forced to sleep in the open.

Haji Abdus Salam, who lives in Nayapara camp with his 13 children, two wives and 10 grand-children, said the family had not eaten since Tuesday.

Outside the camps, Bangladeshi authorities say 20,000 homes were destroyed and another 39,000 damaged by the cyclone, which brought winds of up to 135 kilometres (84 miles) per hour.

The charity Save the Children said it was particularly concerned about the impact on minors.

"Making matters worse, there is also an increased risk of disease, especially for those living in temporary or basic housing and with poor water and sanitation facilities," said country director Mark Pierce.

Bangladesh had earlier evacuated nearly 600,000 people from vulnerable areas and many low-lying villages were inundated by a storm surge reaching four feet (1.3 metres). Most have since returned to their homes.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament her government's swift response, coupled with the fact that the cyclone made landfall during an ebb tide, had averted disaster.

Hasina has said her government would rebuild all property damaged by the storm and has sent two Bangladesh Navy ships to two of the worst-hit areas.

It was not immediately clear how the 33 rescued on Wednesday came to be in the sea, although some reports said they may have been swept from the shore.

The Fishing Boat Association said an estimated 200 fishermen had failed to return to port. They were thought to be stranded, or to have anchored, on far-flung islands.

Cyclone Mora comes after heavy rains in Sri Lanka caused the worst flooding the island has seen in well over a decade, killing more than 200 people.

South Asia is frequently hit by flooding in the summer with the arrival of the annual monsoon rains.

Sri Lanka tightens building laws as monsoon rain toll tops 200
Colombo (AFP) May 31, 2017 - Sri Lanka pledged Wednesday to tighten construction laws as the toll from heavy rains rose to 203, saying many landslide victims would have survived had their homes not been built on slopes.

The government will also prosecute anyone violating existing rules by building on landslide-prone slopes, said Disaster Management Minister Anura Yapa.

"If we don't stop this madness, we are going to end up with a bigger disaster very soon," he said, pledging to demolish all illegal structures including 10,000 in the capital alone.

"About 30 to 40 percent of this disaster is due to illegal constructions," Yapa said.

"The local councils should never have allowed homes to be built on (landslide-prone) mountain slopes."

More than 1,500 homes were destroyed and another 7,600 suffered structural damage in landslides triggered by heavy rain on Friday, according to the Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

As the official death toll rose to 203 with another 96 still missing, Yapa said residents in the worst-hit Ratnapura and Kalutara districts had ignored persistent warnings to evacuate.

"We have a cultural issue where people don't accept that they are at risk," Yapa said.

"We are also considering laws to force people to leave when evacuation warnings are issued by the DMC."

The minister said decades of illegal construction had worsened the flooding by blocking drains and eliminating natural rainwater stores, including marshland.

More than 600,000 people remain temporarily homeless after the landslides and floods, the worst to hit the island in 14 years.

As the waters recede, hundreds of volunteers have begun work on cleaning wells to bring fresh water to survivors, officials said.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said additional medical teams were also being deployed to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake said 16 countries had rushed relief supplies and medicine to assist those driven from their homes following Friday's monsoon deluge.

"We also have a lot of enquiries from other countries and organisations wanting to know our immediate needs. We are moved by the spontaneous response," Karunanayake told reporters.

India and Pakistan also deployed medical teams on the ground in some of the worst-hit areas, he said.

The flooding is the worst since May 2003 when 250 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed after a similarly powerful monsoon, officials said.

Monsoon rains last year also caused flooding and landslides, killing more than 100 people.

Study finds Congo's miners often resort to hunting wildlife for food
Kinshasa, DR Congo (SPX) May 31, 2017
A new study by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has revealed how mining for valuable minerals in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a major driving factor in the illegal hunting of great apes and other wildlife for food. The majority of individuals surveyed at mining camps during the 3-month study period said they hunted mostly out of necessity in the absence of any alternati ... read more

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