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GIs in Bangladesh

DISASTERS on the scale of Bangladesh's April 30 cyclone demand an extraordinary response. Accordingly, thousands of US armed forces personnel have shifted from their normal assignments to take a direct hand in getting food and other aid to the stricken Bangladeshis. As the director of international relief and development of the American Red Cross noted in an interview with the New York Times, the US military brings to disaster relief crucial resources and needed discipline. Among the items the marines now at work in Bangladesh brought with them: portable water-purification units and helicopters.

Bangladeshi authorities have been stymied by a lack of transport to get existing emergency food supplies to the worst-hit coastal areas. The copters will make a dent, at least, in that problem. Impure water threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands who survived the cyclone. The US purification equipment, again, is a good start.

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Long term, Bangladesh would need the full-time services of the Army Corps of Engineers - or its equivalent - to launch the kinds of massive projects that international studies have recommended. The channeling of flood-prone rivers and the building of cyclone-proof shelters, for example, have hardly begun.

A big part of the problem has been inefficiency and corruption within the Bangladeshi government. Aid has poured into the country over the years, but too much of it has been misused. Another challenge is runaway population growth; the number of Bangladeshis is forecast to double from its current 110 million over the next three decades.

These problems will have to be solved largely from within the country. But the current crisis demands instant help from abroad. The US soldiers now doing their part to assist can view their service to Bangladesh with just as much pride as any battlefield victory. They represent, we hope, renewed American activism in aiding the world's needy.

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