UN calls for aid for flood-devastated Bangladeshis


Fri, Jul 30, 2004 - Page 6

The UN yesterday said it will seek international aid to help rehabilitate Bangladesh after month-long floods washed away rice crops, villages and livestock and killed more than 450 people in this impoverished nation.

Torrential monsoon rains and melting snow from the Himalayas have engulfed two-thirds of Bangladesh and large chunks of neighboring India, as well as causing deaths in Pakistan and Nepal.

Landslides, house collapses, drowning, disease and bites from snakes that slither through the floodwaters have brought the death toll across South Asia to 1,338 since mid-last month, and it is expected to surpass last year's figure of 1,500 for the annual rainy season.

Flooding and related problems have killed 768 people in India, 113 in Nepal and five in Pakistan, according to reports by officials.

In Bangladesh, a delta nation of 140 million people, the floods have killed 452 people and marooned or displaced up to 30 million people, the Food and Disaster Ministry said yesterday.

The worst floods in six years have overwhelmed this nation as relief workers struggled to get supplies to millions of people crammed into temporary shelters in schools, on boats or river embankments.

"The United Nations ... will embark on preparations for an international appeal in response to the severe flooding in Bangladesh," a UN press release issued in Dhaka said.

The formal appeal will go out within weeks after an assessment of the damage and need, said the statement, issued a day after Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia said the nation couldn't cope alone with the devastation.

"We need international assistance to rebuild roads, schools and bridges washed away by the floods," Zia said, while visiting flood-affected people in eastern Chandpur district on Wednesday.

She urged Bangladeshis to "be brave and resilient in this time of distress."

Most are doing just that.

Galib Mahmud, in a crisp white schoolshirt, waded barefoot through waist-deep, filthy floodwaters, carrying a backpack on his head and dangling his black shoes in a string bag as he trekked across the flooded streets of Dhaka on Wednesday.

"I have to go to school," the 12-year-old said.

While many public schools have canceled classes and converted the buildings into shelters, private institutions like Galib's remained open. Up to 125,000 displaced people were living in 160 flood shelters in Dhaka.

More than 40 percent of Dhaka, a city of 10 million, is flooded, with residents moving in with relatives in drier areas, taking refuge in shelters at multi-storied buildings, or camping out on raised sidewalks along major roads.

Others have stacked sandbags or layers of bricks at entrances to their homes and businesses to prevent water seeping through.