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Record rains hit 40 mn in India, Nepal, Bangladesh

New Delhi : More than 1300 people have been killed as the current monsoon-related floods have hit large parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh and affected up to 40 million individuals.

Rescue teams have been trying to reach millions of stranded people the three countries as these people face severe food shortage and the threat of water-borne disease.

The June-September monsoon season usually brings flooding in the three countries but this year, according to international aid agencies, things are far worse than before as thousands of villages get cut off and people remain deprived of food and clean water for days.

The severe flooding in India comes at a time when the Centre is pushing ahead with an ambitious plan to inter-link several of the country’s rivers by building a clutch of dams and a network of canals to prevent floods and droughts.

India has been most fiercely hit by the floods, with Unicef estimating 31 million people losing their homes, livelihoods, cattle or property in the country.

While floods have affected many states including Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the country's financial capital Mumbai too had received an unprecedented deluge that brought the city to its knees.

Mumbai reportedly saw more rain in just a few days of August than any other time since July 2005, when severe flooding had killed more than 1,000 people there.

Bihar, already India's most flood-prone state, has this year too witnessed floods more than any other Indian state. Media reports said floods swept nearly 19 districts of Bihar, affecting over 1.71 crore people this year. The flood death toll was more than 500 in Bihar. Nearly 76 per cent of population in north Bihar is living under the recurring threat of flood devastation.

The state governments in all the affected states have been carrying out rescue operations and conducting relief, rehabilitation and recovery operations, at times along with aid agencies.

Unicef said it has been providing multi-sectoral planning and coordination support in the three worst affected states - Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Over 9.8 million people in Bihar have been reached with lifesaving information on topics such as safe drinking water and handwashing, the UN agency said.

Interestingly, India's fuel demand in August shrank 6.1 per cent, the most in 14 years, as floods hindered consumption of diesel and petrol. The Union Petroleum & Natural Gas Ministry said petroleum product consumption was lower at 15.75 MT (million tonne) than 16.78 MT a year ago.

Demand for diesel, the country’s most consumed fuel, also dropped by 3.7 per cent to 5.9 MT.

News reports indicate that the drop in petroleum product demand was the most severe on a monthly basis since April 2003. In January 2017, the consumption had dropped by 5.9 per cent.

India's neighbours Bangladesh and Nepal too have been hit hard. In Bangladesh, more than 8 million people were affected, including about 3 million children while in Nepal, the number affected was about 1.7 million people.

At least 1.5 million homes are believed to have been destroyed or damaged, along with thousands of schools, hospitals, roads and bridges in the India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Aid agencies monitoring the situation have claimed that of the 1300 people killed, 30 to 40 per cent were children.

As many 16 million children across the three countries are in urgent need of life-saving support due to “catastrophic” flooding, said UNICEF.

“Millions of children have seen their lives swept away by these devastating floods” said Jean Gough, Unicef Regional Director for South Asia.

“Children have lost their homes, schools and even friends and loved ones. There is a danger the worst could still be to come as rains continue and flood waters move south” she added.

“This is fast becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises this region has seen in many years and urgent action is needed to meet the growing needs of millions of people affected by these devastating floods,” Deputy Regional Director for Asia Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Martin Faller, was quoted as saying in a news report.

Flood levels have already reached record highs in Bangladesh, according to local authorities. Flooding of major rivers such as the Jamuna, one of the three main rivers of Bangladesh, has surpassed levels set in 1988 – the deadliest floods the country has ever faced.

“More than one third of Bangladesh and Nepal have been flooded and we fear the humanitarian crisis will get worse in the days and weeks ahead,” Faller said.

In Bangladesh, floods are likely to get much worse as swollen rivers from India pour into the low-lying and densely populated areas in the north and centre of the country. Over 3.9 million people have been affected by the rising flood waters.

"As the torrent of water moves down Bangladesh toward the Bay of Bengal we’re expecting to see the flooding get significantly worse in central and southern parts of the country, particularly for those communities close by the big tributaries," said Save the Children Country Director in Bangladesh Mark Pierce was quoted as saying.

"An enormous volume of water has to pass through the country, and people need to take care, stay away from flood waters and evacuate their homes as necessary. The humanitarian situation remains extremely serious and will be for some time”.

"The sheer scale of this crisis means there still isn’t enough food or clean drinking water. More than half a million homes have been damaged while over 400,000 hectares of farmland was destroyed. We’re doing all we can to help, but much more assistance is urgently needed."

Save the Children in India CEO Thomas Chandy warned of a secondary health crisis as flood waters began to retreat in some flood-affected communities.

"Even though we’re seeing flood waters receding in some parts, it provides little respite as the mammoth recovery operation is only just beginning," Chandy said.

"One of the big challenges is preventing potential outbreaks of disease like cholera or diarrhea, which is an increased risk at this time. A lot of water sources have been contaminated by the floods, and many children are living in damp conditions that are conducive to getting sick”.

“This tragic flooding in Nepal has claimed at least 128 lives and 33 people are still missing,” said Dev Ratna Dhakhwa, Secretary General of Nepal Red Cross Society.

“More than 500 Nepal Red Cross volunteers are racing aid to people, including tarpaulins for temporary shelter, food and water. Food crops have been wiped out by the floods in Nepal’s major farming and agricultural lands in the south of the country. We fear that this destruction will lead to severe food shortages,” Dhakhwa added.

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