Churches in Bangladesh have launched a massive relief effort for victims of the devastating cyclone that has claimed thousands of lives along the country's southwestern coast - writes Atto Ankkara.
"The casualty figures do not reflect the extent of the catastrophe that has struck the country," Elgin Saha, the president of the National Council of Churches of Bangladesh, told Ecumenical News International on 20 November 2007.
Saha said more than 4000 people had been killed, and more than 2000 were missing because of the cyclone that brought death and devastation to the Bay of Bengal by flattening and flooding thousands of houses.
The church council's president said that loss of life had been "minimised" due to an advance cyclone warning that helped church workers and non-governmental organizations evacuate people from the coast areas before the cyclone struck with wind speeds of up to 250 kilometres an hour.
The elevated solid cyclone shelters along the coastal areas also saved the lives of thousands of people, Saha added.
All the same, he said that more than 25 million people had been affected by the cyclone.
Tens of relief workers from the Bangladesh church council are already providing food supplies and emergency shelter materials to those caught up in the cyclone, many of whom could find no trace of their homes when they returned after it struck.
"The challenge before the nation is enormous as the extent of damage is very high," Saha explained.
He said his church council was looking for "generous international support' to launch a major rehabilitation programme, beginning with emergency shelters 3500 homeless families.
In Geneva, the Action by Churches Together (ACT) International alliance said its members had begun to provide emergency support for more than 35 500 people in southern Bangladesh.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]