Asia floods strand 12.5 million

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | July 29, 2002

Some 12.5 million people left homeless by floods in South Asia braced for worse Monday, and relief groups geared for emergency response.

Flooding and mudslides in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal have killed some 445 people, most in the last month. Monsoon flooding is an annual event in the region but rainfall in some areas is the worst it has been in 200 years.

According to Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global coalition of disaster response and relief agencies, this year’s monsoon season also started unusually early.

Floodwaters now cover a third of Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s 250 rivers kept swelling Monday and new rain was forecast. Some 4,000 people from the Bangladesh village of Shaktipur are using wooden boats to travel since floodwaters cut them off from the road into town.

And the worst was yet to come, said forecasters, who were watching more rainfall head toward the region. The three-month monsoon season in Bangledesh lasts until the middle of September.

The Bangledesh government was distributing potable water and water purification tablets to try to stop the spread of flood-related illnesses.

ACT member Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS) was responding in northwest Bangladesh areas, including Brahmaputra, Teesta, Dharla. RDRS was offering emergency assistance to marooned people.

Severe flooding also swept through India’s Bihar, Assam, and West Bengal states.

In Assam, in northeastern India, floodwaters have submerged nearly 2,000 villages. Residents have lost homes and livestock. Many are unable to commute to work or school. Dhemaji was the worst hit district with 64 villages inundated, according to ACT. Rail and road communications were broken there, and floodwaters also entered the Kamrup district, disrupting road communication in the Ransiya subdivision.

In the Sonitpur and Darrang districts floodwaters inundated National Highway 51. ACT reports described the situation as “critical” in the districts of Nalbari, Barpeta, Goalpara, Dhubri, Golaghat, Dibrugarh and Jorhat, where floodwater has inundated several villages and vast areas of agricultural fields, causing damage to crops and loss of livestock.

Government relief leaders were setting up relief camps in some districts.

In Bihar, water from the swollen Bagmati River – which flows in from neighboring Nepal – was inundating still more new areas Monday. Water levels have reached the highest in 24 years. And floods coming from the Southern Ganges have affected the districts of Patna, Nalanda, and Nawada.

Government officials in West Bengal reported that two districts -- Cooch Bihar and Jalpaiguri -- were badly affected. Response committees have been formed at the local level.

ACT members Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Lutheran World Service India have staff present in the flood-hit areas and are monitoring the situation.

CASA plans to help 5,000 families who lost most of their belongings and are now living in the relief camps. They are in need of food, clothes, kitchen utensils, and blankets.

ACT reported that the affected people belong to all sections of society and include urban and rural artisans, non-skilled workers, small farmers, and landless laborers.

ACT members were meeting with village and community leaders, along with other relief groups, local church leaders, and government authorities.

Nepal has the highest death toll from the floods, with some 240 people perishing there. Flash floods have pushed mud and rock off the Himalayan Mountains, smashing villages.

In Kathmandu rainfall was the heaviest in 30 years, according to ACT. In the plains district of Sarlahi, one day’s rainfall was the heaviest recorded in 200 years.

According to ACT, the majority of deaths and damage have occurred in the central terai (plains and hills) districts of Makwanpur, Rauthat, Chitwan, Dhanusha, Mahottari, and Kavre.

Nepal government officials and the Nepal Red Cross Society were able to begin damage assessments of some areas last week, and started assessing others this week.

Lutheran World Federation Nepal was arranging this week for specially trained staff to conduct a preliminary assessment of the worst affected districts.

Nepal’s health officials are increasingly concerned about water-borne illness and food shortages. Huge areas of crops are underwater.

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