Floods and landslides hit South Asia

Published: 4 July 2003 0:00 CET

Khem Aryal in New DelhiAdditional material from Pooja Saxena (Delhi) and Indira Kulenovic (Dhaka)

Over one million people have been affected by monsoon season floods and landslides in Nepal, India and Bangladesh, and Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have been among the first to respond to the needs of the hundreds of thousands rendered homeless.

The three countries share common river systems, mainly centred around the river basins of the Ganges and the Bhramaputra. Though the monsoon has just begun, the overflowing of these rivers means bad news for susceptible communities in the region.

Over 150 people have died due to floods and landslides since the first monsoon rains hit the region. Reports reaching the Nepal Red Cross headquarters suggest that 30 people have died so far in 16 affected districts. Seventy people have perished in Bangladesh in a spate of landslides, considered among the worst in recent memory.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the affected countries have been actively involved in rescue and relief operations in the disaster-hit areas. In the Indian states of Assam and Bihar, Red Cross volunteers have been using local boats and rafts made out of banana stems in their rescue and relief operation.

Red Cross volunteers have set up two relief camps in the town of Dhemaji and are providing safe drinking water and cooked food to more than 100 families.

Likewise, the Karimganj and Kamrup district branches of the Indian Red Cross are helping the local authorities in rescue and relief operations. Relief camps have been organized by the Red Cross community based disaster preparedness (CBDP) volunteers in coordination with the local authorities in Barama under Nalbari district in Assam.

The district branches of Dheamji, Karimganj, Nalbari, Darrang and Dhubri are providing locally collected beaten rice, molasses (jaggery), emergency rations and shelter materials.

The national headquarters of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society dispatched 900 family kits, 3,700 kg of lentils, and 900 kg of high protein biscuits for 4,500 people in the districts of Chittagong, Khagrachori and Feni. The chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society visited the most affected areas.

“The coming eight weeks will remain critical in the region as the situation could change with extensive monsoon rainfall,” says Alan Bradburry, programme co-ordinator in the Federation’s regional delegation. Bangladesh’s Flood Forecasting Warning Centre (FFWC) warns that the situation could deteriorate within next two weeks.

In addition, with the increase of water levels in the major rivers criss-crossing the country, soil erosion has always been a silent disaster, with rivers eating away at the agricultural land on which depend the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers.

The landslides that hit the remote Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) districts on 27 June are being ascribed to increasing pressures on the region’s fragile ecosystem, mainly because of ‘jhum’ or the shifting cultivation practised in the region. ‘Jhum’ farmers cut down forests to make room for crops and then move to more fertile areas once the land ceases to be as productive.

In India, the monsoon rains are responsible for over 60 deaths so far, mainly in the flood-prone states of Assam, Tripura and Bihar. These states were also affected by floods last year. Guwahati, the capital of the north-eastern state of Assam, has been inundated with floodwater, disrupting the lives of the city’s 2.5 million residents.

Since the first monsoon showers lashed Nepal in mid-June, more than 30 people have died and eight are missing. Others have died in thunderstorms in the districts of Dang, Mahottari and Dhanusha.

The floods have been accompanied by waterborne and water-related diseases. In India, government medical teams have been stationed in places susceptible to waterborne diseases, mainly to prevent the outbreak of malaria and Japanese encephalitis.

The monsoon flooding also threatens the food security of some of the poorest people in throughout South Asia because of flood waters inundating agricultural fields have devastated the rice crop.

Heavy rainfall and an already swollen Bhramaputra river have affected districts like Dhemaji, Dhubri, Nalbari and Kamrup which were affected in the floods during the last year as well.

Other rivers like the Kathakal and Kala are also flowing above danger levels and are set to touch the highest flood levels ever recorded. The Kala has swept away two bridges, cutting off about 30 villages scattered along the country’s border with neighbouring Bhutan.

With over 65 dead so far, the woes of the flood affected people in Bangladesh may have just begun. The flood waters from both the Bhramaputra and the Ganga will pass through the country before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

Communications between the flood-hit areas and the bigger cities from where relief is dispatched have also been affected – and in the case of the three CHT districts, completely cut off – as a result of roads being flooded or landslides.

Related Links:

Disaster preparedness
Responding to floods
Nepal: appeals, updates and reports
News Story: Nepal flood victims moved from harm’s way
India: appeals, updates and reports
News Story: Bihar population left vulnerable by annual floods
Bangladesh: appeals, updates and reports
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