Death Toll in South Asia Floods at 1,972, Christians Continue Relief Efforts

While the death toll in floods that have devastated South Asia draws near 2,000, Bangladesh and India have been hit hardest making up almost 1,300 deaths
( [email protected] ) Aug 10, 2004 10:03 PM EDT

The death toll in floods that have devastated Bangladesh and India have risen to more than 1200, news agencies report as the United Nations prepared to launch an appeal for post-flood rehabilitation projects. Meanwhile, Christian organizations continue to in the efforts to help communities cope with the floods and extreme weather.

This year's floods in Bangladesh came earlier than usual and are the most damaging in 15 years. Two-thirds of the country is under water, 33 million people are seriously affected and the death toll stands at 703. Hundreds of millions of US dollars' worth of damage had been done to crops, livestock, fisheries and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, epidemics of dengue fever, diarrhea and other waterborne diseases are affecting tens of thousands of people, and women are struggling to keep children safe and well.

An international appeal by the United Nations would be launched Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

The flooding, which affected some 33 million people out of a population of 140 million, has left thousands in urgent need of food, clean water and medicine.

Christian Aid, an agency of the churches in the UK and Ireland, has reported that eight of their partner organizations are working on a coordinated effort led by the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh, to supply emergency food, water sterilizing tablets and oral rehydration salts to counter the effects of diarrhea, which is responsible for the largest number of deaths.

“Severe food shortages are a big concern,” reported Christian Aid. “Many farmers have lost their summer harvest and the rice seedlings they should now be planting for a winter harvest; they will need seeds and tools to replant crops as soon as possible.”

UBINIG, a leading Bangladesh NGO, reports its Seed Wealth Centers, which help communities save local seed varieties, are on standby to help.

Christian Aid Partners are planning post-flood rehabilitation work, but although several locations report a fall in water levels, high tides and more rain forecast may mean the situation will worsen again and that emergency work may have to continue for several weeks.

Once the floods have receded, people will need help to rebuild homes and repair damaged infrastructure such as schools, wells and embankments. Many people have lost assets such as livestock. Day laborers have been without work, and small businesses such as weavers have lost equipment and markets.

Meanwhile, in the flooded Indian states of Assam and Bihar, Christian Aid is supporting its partner, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), to distribute essential items such as food, clothing, shelter, blankets, hygiene kits and flood shelters.

For Christian Aid, Bihar is a priority area. Over 21 million people in 20 districts have been affected and 568 lives lost. Although the waters have begun to recede many villages are still cut off and CASA think it will take at least two months for life to return to normal.

The entire state of Assam is affected and some villages are in danger of being washed away completely. As in Bangladesh, the full extent of the damage cannot be measured until the flood-waters recede, but it is thought this already poor state will have been set back at least ten years.

The government has put the cost of damage to property and infrastructure in Bangladesh and India at several billion dollars.