Floods ravage South Asia, kill 250

By Biswajyoti Das

GUWAHATI, India - Packed hospitals in eastern India have been struggling to cope with people suffering waterborne diseases as some of the worst floods in living memory ravage South Asia.

More than 250 people have died over the past 11 days after torrential monsoon rains that caused rivers to burst their banks in the region, including much of Bangladesh.

More than 35 million people have been affected by the floods in South Asia. About 10 million are homeless or cut off in their villages, with little or no access to food and health care.

Health workers and aid groups in Assam in northeast India were working around the clock to treat and feed many of the 3 million people displaced or surrounded by flood waters in the state with the limited medicines and supplies available.

Hospital wards in affected areas were full.

Elsewhere, villagers were getting desperate and hungry.

"Our family survived for a week on buffalo milk but now the animal has stopped producing milk as it has gone without food for days," said Meghu Yadav, a villager in the Samastipur district of impoverished Bihar state.

Many people were suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery and fever. Officials have warned of outbreaks of malaria.

State officials in Bihar raised the death toll there by 20 to 77.

Every year monsoon rains leave a trail of death and destruction across South Asia, but much of the economy of a largely agricultural region depends on the downpours.

Latest available Indian government figures cited by UNICEF say that over 1,100 people have died in this year's monsoon.

The United Nations Children's Fund has said the scale of the disaster posed an "unprecedented challenge" for aid workers.

"The victims are left to survive on their own," said an aid worker with an Indian voluntary agency supervising relief work in Guwahati, Assam's main city.

Although it had stopped raining in Assam on Saturday, further downpours were forecast for early next week.

The end of the floods will not end the misery for many farmers as receding waters leave a thick layer of silt that means no rice crop will be possible until next year.

Violence flared in Bihar, where 10 million people are affected, when police tried to move hungry, homeless people away from an elevated train track to be able to dig a ditch and drain floodwaters from a nearby village.

One person was killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes there, officials and witnesses said.

Some 7 million people are marooned in Bangladesh.

Sixteen more people, including six children, drowned overnight, taking the death toll there to at least 81, a government official said.

"We have been virtually starving for several days but there seems to be no one to come to help us," said Majeda Begum, perched on the roof of her house in Manikganj district with her five-year-old granddaughter, just above swirling floodwaters.

Muslim villagers offered prayers on boats as mosques had been flooded.

Parts of the capital, Dhaka, were under water and more areas might flood in the next few days, officials said.

Bangladesh army chief Moeen U. Ahmed urged politicians "to come down to the fields and help people instead of advising the administration through talk shows on television channels."

In Nepal, a UN body said weeks of rains had triggered floods and landslides that had killed 84 people and affected 270,000. It cited government statistics.

- REUTERS

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