Flood fury in South Asia: 245 dead and counting, millions displaced

NEW DELHI (Asia News Network) - Monsoon rains start in June and continue through September. They are vital for farmers in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh but cause huge loss of life and property damage every year.

Around 245 people have been killed and millions displaced in South Asia as monsoon flooding and landslides have devastated parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Television footage of people marooned on rooftops or wading through chest-deep waters with their belongings and often livestock reflects the chaos across the three countries. Authorities scrambled to send relief supplies to flood-hit areas, while helicopters distributed food packets in the worst-hit districts.

Said to be the worst floods in a decade, southern Nepal is bearing the brunt of the monsoon fury with 111 people dead and 35 missing, and 20 per cent of the population affected. 

Nepal's home minister Janardan Sharma furnished these figures in Parliament on Tuesday. 

Deadly landslides and flooding are a common feature across South Asia during the monsoon season that stretches from June to September. Though monsoon rains are important for farmers still heavily dependent on nature in the three countries, they invariably lead to loss of life and property every year.

The situation may get worse with rivers swollen with rainwater and India's meteorological department forecasting more heavy rain on Wednesday.

In Nepal, the army has been evacuating hundreds of people from villages submerged by rising flood waters, with southern parts of the country the worst hit. Of its 75 districts, 26 are either submerged or hit by landslides.

With hundreds of thousands of people affected by the floods, the government is focusing on moving in relief supplies as soon as possible, said Ram Krishna Subedi, a home ministry spokesman.

Saptari district of Nepal is inundated even as residents await government aid. To add to their woes, the threat of water-borne diseases looms large. In Banke, the flood-affected wait for medical assistance as the raging waters have destroyed the medicine stocks in the local hospital.  

“We have been out on the road without food and clean drinking water for the past four days. Many of the elderly, expectant and postpartum mothers, and children have fallen ill,” Budhan Mukhiya of Hanumannagar Kulauni told the Kathmandu Post.

The Nepal Army airlifted six seriously-ill victims to Nepalgunj on Tuesday. The Army had also rescued two sick victims from the area on Sunday and admitted them at the Bheri Zonal Hospital.

The condition is quite the same in surrounding districts. 

“Many have fallen sick after drinking contaminated water. We have dispatched health workers in all flood-affected areas in the district,” said Khim Bahadur Khadka, a senior medical officer. 

The local administration has urged the Army to rescue ailing flood victims in Rapti Sonari village which has been disconnected since Friday. The Rapti river swept away parts of the connecting road at Sidhaniyaghat.

A third of neighbouring Bangladesh is also under water, with at least 29 people dead. Other reports put the figure of dead at 39. 

At least 18 major rivers are flowing at dangerously high levels, according to the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Center.

Over the past two days, 27 people have died in the low-lying delta nation, while another 600,000 are marooned, said Bangladesh's disaster management minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury. Around 368,000 people have taken refuge in more than 970 makeshift government shelters.

“Another 1.5 million people have been marooned,” Reaz Ahmed, head of Bangladesh's disaster management department, told the media.

According to the Daily Star, around 3,000,00 people in 13 sub-districts have been affected. People are facing problems burying and cremating their loved ones, a report said. The worst-affected districts include Kurigram, Gaibandha, Bogra and Sirajganj. 

Jahanara Begum, 42, from Shiberkuti village in Lalmonirhat, took shelter on the flood protection embankment of the Dharla river with her husband Shahed Ali and two children. She said they have been starving since Monday night.

“We had 3 kg of rice but that was finished on Monday noon,” Jahanara Begum told the Daily Star.

“I didn't get any help from government or non-government agencies and I had no money to buy food for our two children," she wept holding her two children tightly.

In northern India, soliders in boats and helicopters distributed food packets, medicine and drinking water to the flood-hit.

Forty-six people were killed in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday when two buses were buried by a landslide in the Himalayan foothills. Another 21 have died in the remote northeastern state of Assam, where soldiers raced to rescue people marooned on rooftops, various media reports said.

In India's northeastern state of Bihar, more than 6.5 million people have been affected by floods in 13 districts killing over 40 people, so far.

Thousands of huts were washed away, standing crops worth millions of rupees destroyed and basic infrastructure damaged.

“So far 41 people have died in the floods,” officials said, but unconfirmed reports put the death toll at 85, the Statesman reported quoting IANS. 

Nearly three million people were affected alone in the worst-hit districts of Kishanganj, Araria, Purnea and Katihar in last three days. “Thousands were displaced due to floods,” an official said.

The state administration says at least five more districts including Samastipur, Khagaria and Sheohar face the threat of floods. Other affected districts are Darbhanga, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, East and West Champaran.

In view of the worsening flood situation, the state government has cancelled the leave of doctors and heath department officials in flood-hit districts. The state disaster management department has asked people living in low lying areas to move to higher places as heavy rains continued.

“The flood situation in Bihar will continue to be grim following rising water levels of rivers and incessant rains,” met department officials said.

Major rivers in the state including the Koshi, Mahananda, Gandak, Bagmati and Ganga are in spate and some rivers have breached their banks and embankments, officials said.

Railway stations in Kishanganj, Katihar and Jogbani in Araria were flooded, leaving scores of passengers stranded. Eighteen trains have been cancelled since Sunday.

The government has launched relief and rescue operations with help from the Army, Air Force as well as National Disaster Response Force and Bihar State Disaster Response Force teams.

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