Deadly Monsoon Rains Worst in 25 Years

NEW DELHI, India, July 5, 2007 (ENS) - Over the past month, more than 1.5 million people have been affected by storms, tornados and landslides in Bangladesh, in what has been described as the worst monsoon season in 25 years. Heavy monsoon rains also are making life miserable for people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Eighty four people in the Indian state of Gujarat have lost their lives ever since torrential rains hit on Monday. Some 43,000 people have been evacuated from their homes as houses collapsed and crops were inundated.

The South Africa-based charity ActionAid says heavy rains in the state of Maharashtra this week killed more than 50 people and have left thousands homeless.

The Indian meteorological department forecasts more heavy rainfall in both Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Flooded vehicles on a Mumbai road. (Photo courtesy State of Maharashtra)
The Maharashtra capital city of Mumbai is limping back to normalcy after heavy downpours last week. Five persons were killed when a building collapsed and two people were electrocuted.

In the rural Amravati district, 350 villages are underwater and the rains have claimed the lives of 26 people.

Power supply and roads have been badly hit, while thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. Efforts to find missing persons are still ongoing.

"Crops and almost three feet high soil have been washed off from farms. This means that farmers can resume agricultural work only after four months. Some land in fact has been rendered barren," says Dr. Madhukar Namdev Rao Gumble of Apeksha Society, an ActionAid partner organization.

The government has promised to dole out Rs 4800 for houses that were completely destroyed and Rs 2400 to those families whose huts were partially damaged. "This would be grossly inadequate," Dr. Gumble said.

People are in desperate need of clothes, bedding and blankets. Plastic sheets and bamboo poles are also needed to make temporary houses, he said.

This home in Amravati was utterly destroyed. (Photo courtesy ActionAid)

Water from the Amravati district's Vishroi dam was released, flooding the Pedhi River, which rose so high that some villages are standing in eight feet of water.

Low-lying areas, which mostly house minority Dalit families, have borne the brunt of flooding.

Forty-one people in Andhra Pradesh have lost their lives in recent days and more than 300,000 people in 220 villages have been badly hit. An estimated 10,000 houses are damaged and 27,000 acres of land affected.

ActionAid teams trying to reach affected Andhra Pradesh villages found their way blocked by washed out roads and bridges.

Rahamad Bee, a 30 year old Muslim woman was distraught. "I need to earn money. I need to cook. I need to take care of the family. How can I do this when the house is gone?" she implored ActionAid staff.

"Water logging, silt deposit and consuming wet grain are likely to cause further illness. These villages urgently need safe drinking water and medical assistance," says Sandhya Srinivasan, head of ActionAid's Andhra Pradesh team.

Promises by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister to provide Rs 4,000 to those whose homes were washed away and Rs 2000 for submerged houses were greeted by protests. Communities say it will cost them Rs 12-15,000 to rebuild their houses, particularly as they should be more, not less secure than ones they have lost.

In Bangladesh, the waters are no longer on the rise - for now.

"Thankfully, the flood waters have started to recede in most parts of the country, which means people who moved to higher ground can return home, although many of the mud houses have been damaged," said Shafiul Alam, secretary general of the Bangladesh Red Crescent. "We've sent assessment teams to 12 districts and we're seeing an urgent need for food, clothing and medical assistance in the most-affected areas."

Residents of Lahore, Pakistan struggle through flooded streets. (Photo by Aamir Hafeez Zaidi)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched preliminary emergency appeals for both Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the full extent of the devastation caused by last week's Cyclone Yemyin is still not clear.

There are estimates that more than 1.5 million people may have been affected by the cyclone. At least 250,000 are now homeless and early assessments show that food, clean drinking water and shelter are in short supply.

"When you walk through areas of Baluchistan, the air smells of rotting goat carcasses and the heat is so stifling that many people are covering themselves in mud just to keep cool," says Asar ul Haq, the International Federation's head of disaster management in Pakistan.

"Access to the flood-affected population and areas is a major problem, since highways and other infrastructure have been damaged by the flooding rivers," said UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programs Kari Egge. "Support to the victims has been limited to airlifts at the moment, and so far has been mainly handled by the Pakistani authorities."

In the district of Turbat, one of the worst-affected areas, relief efforts are hampered and civilians urgently need help. Police fired tear gas Friday to quell riots that broke out there among flood victims desperate for aid. Like many other districts, Turbat also has seen its water supplies contaminated and electricity disrupted.

"Around 50,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in Turbat alone, and people are sleeping in fields, along the roads, and in schools and public buildings. We're expecting more rain in the coming days, which will heighten the risk of malaria, while we're also seeing new cases of diarrhea," ul Haq said.

UNICEF is handing over emergency supplies of tents, food, medicine and hygiene supplies, and equipment for people affected by floods in Balochistan. Two emergency health kits, designed to provide for the immediate health needs of 20,000 people for three months, have already been sent to the districts most affected by the floods.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent has released 250,000 Swiss francs for Pakistan and 250,000 Swiss francs for Bangladesh from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to provide immediate assistance to those in need.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.