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More than 1,000 died in South Asia floods this summer

Floods have swept across the states of Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and other areas

Jeffrey Gettleman | NYT 

Assam floods: China didn't share Brahmaputra hydrological data, says India
India has also suffered immensely

MUMBAI: More than 1,000 people have died in floods across South Asia this summer, and as sheets of incessant rain pummeled the vast region on Tuesday, worries grew that the death toll would rise along with the floodwaters.

According to the United Nations, at least 41 million people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have been directly affected by flooding and landslides resulting from the monsoon rains, which usually begin in June and last until September.

And while flooding in the Houston area has grabbed more attention, aid officials say a catastrophe is unfolding in South Asia.

In Nepal, thousands of homes have been destroyed and dozens of people swept away. Elephants were pressed into service, wading through swirling waters to rescue people, and aid workers have built rafts from bamboo and banana leaves.

But many people are still missing, and some families have held last rites without their loved ones’ bodies being found.

“This is the severest flooding in a number of years,” Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said by phone from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

Nepal’s flooded areas are the poorest parts of the country, where most families live in bare mud houses and rely on subsistence farming, he said. Those farms are now underwater and thousands of people are stuck living under plastic tarps in camps for displaced people where disease is beginning to spread.

Asked how the situation in Nepal compared to that in Houston, Mr. Markus said, “We hope people won’t overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer home.”

India has also suffered immensely. Floods have swept across the states of Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and other areas.

This weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew over the devastation in Bihar, where more than 400 people are believed to have died in floods in recent weeks. He pledged millions of dollars in assistance and urged insurance companies to send in assessors as soon as possible to help farmers cope with their loses.

And the rain keeps coming.

On Tuesday, Mumbai, the sprawling financial capital, was soaked to the bone. Nearly all day, the rain drummed down. As people scurried up the sidewalks, the wind tore umbrellas out of their hands.

The sky seemed to fall lower and lower, pressing down on the building tops, cutting visibility to a few blocks, then a few yards. By midafternoon, it was so dark it felt like nightfall.

Busy intersections were deluged and cars struggled to part the muddy, greenish waters. Several Mumbai television channels reported that more rain had fallen on the city in the past several days than any other time since July 2005, when severe flooding killed more than 1,000 people in this part of India.

Many trains and flights were delayed or canceled, marooning countless people. The authorities urged people to stay home and keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles. (Many did not heed that advice, leading to traffic snarls throughout the city on Tuesday evening.)

Schools and colleges were shut. Rising water spilled into hospitals and sloshed across the floors.

Police officials warned people to leave their cars behind if they were caught in a flash flood.

The Mumbai police, writing on Twitter, urged people to abandon their cars if they encountered high water.

The monsoons have battered Bangladesh as well. A low-lying and densely populated country of 165 million, Bangladesh is chronically ravaged by flooding. This year’s monsoons have left roughly a third of its terrain submerged.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent said on its website that more than eight million Bangladeshis had been affected by the flooding, the worst in 40 years. At least 140 people have died and nearly 700,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Corinne Ambler, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Bangladesh who had just taken an aerial tour of the devastation, said she was stunned.

“All I could see was water, the whole way,” she said in a telephone interview from Dhaka, the capital. “You have tiny little clumps of houses stuck in the middle of water.”

After visiting some of the afflicted villages by boat, she said that many Bangladeshis had told her, “We’re used to flooding, but we’ve never seen anything like this in our lives.”
©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Wed, August 30 2017. 08:58 IST
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