Wed, Aug 30, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Flood levels recede in Rajasthan

AFP AND AP , BARMER AND GAUHATI, INDIA

Chhugaji, 70, and his grandchild sit on the debris of their collapsed house in Nimbala village, in Rajasthan state's Barmer district, India, on Monday. Torrential downpours and floods have killed at least 150 people and left scores missing in the region.

PHOTO: AP

Medical teams fanned out across parts of India's desert state of Rajasthan to check the spread of disease after floods claimed at least 150 lives in the past week, officials said yesterday.

"The flood waters have gone down but the biggest challenge facing us is the spread of disease and seeing this we are giving people medicines and medical teams are [undertaking] testing," said Digambar Singh, the state's health minister.

The flash floods, caused by a week of heavy monsoon rains, killed tens of thousands of animals, whose rotting carcasses have raised fears of water-borne diseases, another official said.

Villagers reported seeing dead animals floating in the water and said the stench was unbearable.

"After the floods, we had reports of fever, skin diseases and eye infections," said Lalit Pawar, Rajasthan's urban development secretary.

Tens of thousands of animals have died so the water is heavily contaminated, Pawar said.

"The teams are putting bleaching powder in the water and we are burying animals," he added.

He said that 48 medical teams had been sent to the areas affected.

Rescue workers continued to look for bodies and animal carcasses as a central government team examined how to drain water still pooled 18m deep in more than a dozen villages, officials said.

State officials have said they expect the human death toll to reach around 300, with more than 100 people still unaccounted for yesterday.

The majority of the flood-related deaths occurred in Barmer district, near the border with Pakistan, about 887km west of New Delhi.

In Barmer, which had suffered a drought for the last six years, the rains initially brought cheer to parched villages, but now residents stranded on sand dunes are mourning lost family members and homes.

"For 24 hours I was in the water, my house and everything are drowned. If the [rescue] boat had come half an hour later I wouldn't have made it," said Marga Devi of Kawas village, who could see only the top of her flooded home.

In related news, Indian farmers in the parched northeast yesterday urged the government in New Dehli to quickly send food and water to their region.

In the northeastern state of Assam, the government has declared the situation "drought-like" because the state received only 787.5mm of rain between June 1 and Aug. 23, a 30 percent drop from last year in a region that at this time of year is usually contending with monsoon-swelled rivers overflowing their banks.

There have been no rains since late last month, and now the government is waiting for the end of the monsoon next month before declaring an outright drought.

"More than 1 million farm families have been hit by the lack of rainfall in 22 of the state's 27 districts. We are trying our best to draw water from all available sources for the parched fields," said the state's agriculture minister, Pramila Rani Brahma.

The dry weather has also hit the 430km2 Kaziranga National Park, home to 1,855 one-horned rhinos.

``This may lead to a food crisis for the animals ... in the coming winter months,'' a park ranger said.

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