Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Monsoons continue to wreak havoc on South Asia

AP , NEW DELHI

Heavy monsoon rains smashed three homes in western India, killing 17 occupants yesterday as flooding caused hunger and homelessness across South Asia, affecting millions of people.

The homes collapsed in Bharuch in Gujarat state, bringing the toll from six weeks of monsoons to 1,644, according to official figures compiled by reporters.

Heavy rains in western India over the past few days have blocked traffic and cut off highways, causing massive traffic pileups and power outages.

On Tuesday, mudslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains surged into an underground tunnel of a power project, killing 11 workers and injuring another 10, said officials at the Tehri project in Uttaranchal state, 300km north of New Delhi.

In neighboring Bangladesh, UN agencies were meeting with foreign donors and government officials in the national capital Dhaka yesterday to assess the flood damage and relief and rehabilitation needs.

The meeting is in preparation for an aid appeal the UN is planning to launch next week, UN officials in Dhaka said.

Thirty-nine deaths were reported Tuesday in Bangladesh, nine of them from diarrhea that is spreading as waters recede, leaving behind sewage and filth and contaminating drinking water, officials said.

Children are the worst affected in the outbreak of diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid.

Nearly two-thirds of Bangladesh is submerged by the worst flooding in six years, and 628 people have died. The government says 20 million people -- or one-seventh of the population -- would need food aid over the next five months.

Weather officials predicted heavy rains in northern and western Indian states over the coming week, while in the eastern states and Bangladesh officials worried about feeding the hungry and providing shelter to hundreds of thousands whose houses have been washed away.

"In my village, people have lost everything; food stocks, homes, livelihood, everything," said Sudhir Jha, a government worker in India's Bihar state, where the floods have destroyed some 50,000 houses and submerged 2.9 million hectares of maize and rice crop land.

State officials estimate the losses from one of Bihar's worst floods in years is 80 billion rupees (US$1.7 billion).

The cash-strapped state government has failed to evacuate flood victims and provide them with relief.

At least 611 people have died in Bihar, nearly half of their bodies were recovered only after rains decreased and floodwaters began to recede.

Jha's village, Kothia, is in the worst-hit district of Darbhanga, where angry residents raided two government food storehouses.

"They hadn't eaten for days," Jha said.

"What the government gave was too little, and came too late," said Arun Choudhury, a government clerk who returned to the state capital, Patna, after being stranded for nearly three weeks in his flooded village.

The state government in Bihar has yet to estimate how many millions of people are battling hunger as they huddle in makeshift shelters along embankments, highways and railroad tracks.

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