Millions in danger as floods ravage India, Nepal and Bangladesh

Wednesday 17th July 2019 06:46 EDT

The death toll in South Asia continues to rise after flooding and landslides ravaged the border region of India and Nepal, leaving tens of thousands displaced and millions affected. At least 29 have died in the northeastern Indian states of Bihar and Assam. Flash floods have also ripped through Pakistan and Bangladesh, which border India on the east and west, respectively. Twenty eight have died in Pakistan, and 16 in Bangladesh, according to authorities from each country.

The rains have stopped in Nepal, but the disaster is far from over - with heavy downpours expected to continue in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in the coming days. Across the border area, over a million hectares of cropland (2,471,054 acres) has been submerged, roads and homes have been damaged, livestock has been swept away and killed, and entire wildlife sanctuaries have been cut off. Federal and state agencies are working round the clock across all four affected countries to evacuate those in high-risk areas.

Dozens killed in Nepal

Nepal appears the worst hit so far. Officials in Nepal said flooding and landslides killed at least 78 people and 32 others are missing, either swept away by swollen rivers or buried by mudslides since monsoon rains began pounding the region. The National Emergency Operation Center said 14 highways across the nation were blocked by floods or mudslides and attempts were being made to clear the debris and open them for traffic. More than 42,000 security personnel in Nepal have been mobilized for rescue and relief efforts - including the police, army, and paramilitary forces.

Floods ravage northeastern India

More than 6.7 million people in India have been directly affected by the floods, according to official statements - about 2.5 million in Bihar and 4.2 million in Assam. Floods and mudslides have also hit some other northeastern states, including Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram. After causing flooding and landslides in Nepal, three rivers are overflowing in northeastern states of Bihar and Assam, submerging parts of the region. At least 14 people were killed and more than 2 million people are displaced, official said. Pratata Amrit, a government official, said about 200,000 people left their flooded village homes in Bihar state, with 50,000 taking shelter in 152 state-run relief camps.

In remote northeastern India, 17 others were killed by flooding and mudslides and more than 2 million were affected by flooding in Assam and other states in the past four days, officials said. Nearly 80% of Assam's Kaziranga National Park, home to the endangered one-horn rhinoceros, has been flooded by the mighty Brahmaputra river, which flows along the sanctuary, forest officer Jutika Borah said.

Assam’s State Disaster Response Authority said around 900,000 people spread over 21 of the state’s 33 districts have had their homes submerged. Several thousands are living in government-run relief camps in the state.

Disaster relief agencies are now scrambling to provide housing and crucial supplies for families who have been displaced. Over 116,000 in Bihar and 83,000 in Assam have been evacuated to temporary shelters, and state agencies are distributing rice, biscuits, baby food, and candles to hundreds of relief centers, according to state officials.

“My appeal to people is to be on alert and those living in lowlands should move to safer higher grounds,” said Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, the state closest to China’s Tibet region. “Disaster management agencies as well as police and paramilitary officers have been put on alert, and residents have been advised to avoid unnecessary travel.” Said Arunachal Pradesh’s home minister.

Disaster on top of tragedy

Bangladesh, with 160 million people and more than 130 rivers, is prone to monsoon floods because of overflowing rivers and the heavy onrush of water from upstream India. The low-lying nation is also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is slowly driving up sea levels.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that the situation could get worse as the World Meteorological Organization has forecast that in July, Bangladesh will be hit by the highest amount of rainfall for all of 2019, with more than 730mm of rain (about 29 inches) expected over an average of 22 days.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, many people live in homes made of bamboo, mud, or timber - which provide little to no protection in floods, said Azmat Ulla, head of the the Bangladesh office of IFRC.

More than 200,000 Bangladeshis have been displaced and are living in temporary camps, according to the country's state minister for disaster management and relief. Rohingya refugees in the south eastern corner of Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable. One million Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in nearby Myanmar are now living in overcrowded camps - and 400 of these makeshift homes have been destroyed by the floods, leaving 3,000 refugees displaced, said Ulla.

Hydrologists and conservationists expressed grave concern over increasingly extreme seasons across South Asia. Just last month, swathes of India - including the major cities of Mumbai and Chennai - nearly ran out of water, with people lining up for hours for meager daily allocations of government-provided water. “In the end, this is a clear case of climate change impacting on our ecosystem,” said Nayan Sharma, a prominent hydrologist and professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee

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