Aid scarce for 18-million stranded in Asian floods

Relief teams in India, Bangladesh and Nepal on Thursday battled to reach about 18-million people stranded in massive flooding, with food, clean drinking water and medicines in short supply.

More than 1 100 people have died across South Asia since the start of the annual monsoon season in mid-June, with the region’s rivers bursting their banks due to relentless heavy rains and snows melting in the Himalayas.

Britain and the United Nations have stepped up to assist local authorities, with London pledging $2,5-million in aid and the world body launching emergency relief operations.

Northern India has borne the brunt of the disaster, with 1 000 people dead and more than 12-million villagers in Bihar and Assam states desperately awaiting much-needed aid—and fears mounting that disease could soon spread.

“Whatever baby food I had is now exhausted and there is no alternative other than trying to forcibly feed my daughter boiled rice,” 27-year-old Rahima Begum, whose home near the Brahmaputra River in Assam is under water, said.

“My son is down with fever and diarrhoea for the last two days,” said labourer Bhairab Madhab, who like Begum, lives in the village of Senimari.

“Getting a doctor is a distant dream with flood waters surrounding us.”

About 5,5-million people have been displaced in Assam, while nearly seven million others are stranded in Bihar state, where 3 000 villages have been inundated, officials said.

An official in the state’s hard-hit Darbhanga district said the area had been drenched with 875mm of rain in July, more than three times what it received during the entire monsoon season last year.

The Indian capital, New Delhi, was also battered with rain overnight, receiving 166mm of rain in the last 24 hours, more than half its average for the entire month of August.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, where 54 people have lost their lives, officials said 5,6-million had been displaced or marooned in their homes, with about 160 000 now housed in shelters.

Britain’s Department for International Development announced on Thursday that it would give $2,5-million dollars to the relief effort for food, water, shelter and medicine for flood victims.

The United Nations has started flying emergency relief operations to assist hundreds of thousands of Nepalis affected by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides, the world body said.

“The UN System in Nepal stands fully committed to extend all possible assistance to the people of the affected districts who are suffering from the current natural calamity,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Matthew Kahane said in a statement.

At least 84 people have been killed since the start of the monsoon season, according to Nepal’s Home Ministry.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and are at heightened risk of contracting water-borne diseases, Nepal’s Health Ministry warned this week.

Aid organisations have emphasised the need for quick relief efforts, warning that the death toll could rise if villagers resort to drinking stagnant flood waters.

“Providing safe drinking water and addressing public health is essential because it saves lives,” Lalchand Garg, Oxfam’s manager in eastern India, said in a statement.

Monsoon rains that sweep the subcontinent from June through to September are crucial for farmers and the economy, but also cause massive property damage and hundreds of deaths annually.—AFP

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