Sheik Mujibir Rahman, the political leader of East Pakistan, has accused the central Pakistani government of "criminal negligence" after the recent catastrophe, adding that "a massive rescue and relief operation, if launched within 20 hours of the disaster, could have saved thousands of lives."
President Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan did not inspect the area until almost a week after a 25-foot tidal wave devastated the islands in the Ganges delta on November 13. The government, dominated by the Punjabis of Western Pakistan, did not have a coordinated program to help the survivors until two weeks later.
Meanwhile, supplies from foreign nations piled up at Dacca airport because the government could not move them to the islands.
Harvard professors who have worked in East Pakistan defended the central government against charges of negligence in handling relief operations. They said that ignorance and lack of resources not malice, have glowed the government's response.
"The government is simply too poor to handle the problems of relief and protection," Gustav F. Papanek, director of the Development Advisory Service, said. He noted that the per capital income for West Pakistan is $110, and $60 for East.
Papanek added that two completely unforeseen factors increased the death toll. Because this is the harvest season, many persons had come out from the mainland temporarily to help the farmers on the islands.
Also, in October the government changed the system of storm warnings broadcast over the radio. Thinking that the peasants did not understand the numerical ratings of 1 to 12 set up, the government substituted verbal descriptions. The island inhabitants were confused and fewer sought refuge than would have otherwise.
"East Pakistan is a frontier country, rather like Texas in the 1880's," Roger R. Revelle, director of the Center for Population Studies, said. He added that poor communication prevented the government from knowing the full extent of the tragedy. Revelle also underlined the role of shock, saying, "Imagine our reaction if an atomic bomb were dropped on New York. Most of us would be too stunned to act."