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Published: November 26, 2007 DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov. 24 — The political storm that preceded nature's latest assault on this country still swirls overhead.

Nearly a year into an army-backed state of emergency, basic freedoms remain suspended, a sweeping anticorruption drive has stuffed the jails with some of Bangladesh's most influential business leaders and politicians, and a fragile economy is tottering under the pressure of floods at home and rising oil prices abroad.
The soaring cost of food is potentially the most explosive challenge facing the military-backed government that has run this country since Jan. 11, when, after debilitating political protests, scheduled elections were scrapped and emergency law was imposed. Climbing inflation was compounded by an unusually harsh monsoon, which destroyed food crops along the flood plains in July.

Then, the Nov. 15 cyclone destroyed acres of rice paddy, ruined the shrimp farms that dot the southern coast, and, according to the World Food Program, left roughly 2.3 million people in need of urgent food aid.

Storm relief is now the government's most pressing test, including averting famine and disease outbreaks, and ensuring that aid distribution is perceived to be fair and without corruption. The government estimates that six million people were affected by the storm.