Villagers return home to ruins in flood-hit Asia

Villagers returned home to ruins as flood waters continued to recede on Monday but the toll from the annual monsoon flooding across South Asia rose to 2 300, officials said.

Tens of thousands are still housed in shelters while millions more are dependent on food and medical aid, but displaced people began heading home in India and Bangladesh, at least to check out what remains of their homes.

Dukhia Manjhi, who has been living in a plastic-covered hut in a district in the north of India’s worst-hit Bihar state, where 15-million people were affected, made a reconnaissance trip to his village ahead of the weekend.

“Nothing—there’s nothing to go back to,” said Manhji, whose first name means “sorrowful”, back at the relief camp in the district of Samastipur, 160km north of state capital, Patna.

“The floods have washed away the fertile soil and there’s nothing [with which] to rebuild our home.”

In Bihar alone, almost 80 000 houses were partially or totally damaged and more than 1,1-million hectares of crops submerged after heavy rains saw rivers burst their banks.

Bihar has asked the Indian government for $800-million in aid and promised to compensate farmers and citizens, but development agencies say the recovery effort will be daunting.

“So many people have lost their homes and these are mostly the poorest of the poor. Re-establishing their livelihoods is going to be a major issue,” said Vinoy Ohdar, Bihar head for global anti-poverty agency ActionAid.

About 50 people died in the state on the weekend and the Home Ministry’s disaster-management division on Sunday put the toll across India since the start of the monsoon at 1 752.

One of the victims in Bihar was a man beaten to death by police on Sunday after he joined a protest to demand food at a relief centre in Bihar’s Saharsa district, local official Niranjan Kumar Choudhry said.

The national toll did not include 11 deaths in heavy rains in northern Himachal Pradesh state over the weekend that also killed a television reporter for a privately-run Hindi news channel.

Severe flooding since the end of July has affected more than 20-million people across northern India and over 10-million in Bangladesh, where officials say tens of thousands of people are also heading home.

Bangladesh’s death toll rose to 441 on Monday, with 30 more deaths recorded.

“About 40 000 people have left relief centres and returned home,” Bangladesh government spokesperson Golam Kibria said on Monday, adding that 10,2-million have been displaced or marooned in the floods.

“The government has promised to give $10-million to the farmers.”

More than 80 000 people have been admitted to hospitals—more than half with diarrhoea—as flood-hit areas suffered an acute crisis of safe drinking water, Bangladesh’s Health Department said on Monday.

International organisations and foreign governments from Saudi Arabia to Canada have offered millions of dollars in aid, mainly for Nepal and Bangladesh.

In Nepal, six members of a family died in a landslide on Monday bringing the toll to 105 dead and 300 000 affected by the floods.—AFP



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