Hundreds Die in Asia Floods, Millions Homeless

BEIJING, China, July 31, 2002 (ENS) – Unusually early floods across 25 Chinese provinces claimed 793 lives and left more than 20,000 of the nation’s poorest people homeless. The Red Cross Society of China has activated emergency crews to move water, blankets and food to the affected areas.

Floods from northern China, the Himalayan region and south to India and Bangladesh have been caused by an unseasonably early, continuous, and heavy monsoon season.

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Chinese families set up temporary shelters on dikes above the flood waters as the rain pours down. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Floods occur every year during the monsoon and typhoon season, but flash floods accompanied by landslides and hailstorms such as those sweeping the region in June and July, are unusual.

The China Ministry of Civil Affairs reports that the numbers of people affected and crops destroyed during the flash floods in June are higher than losses during the same period during the 1990s.

The floods have hit provinces throughout China, from the far northern mountainous areas, which are traditionally arid, to communities along the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, both of which are now cresting at record levels.

Last week, in anticipation of heavy rains, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, an engineeer by profession, inspected the flood prevention and early warning systems along the two rivers.

The early floods took their victims by surprise, causing enormous destruction in many remote villages inhabited by subsistence farmers. Rice paddies farmed for generations, as well as other crops, have been completely or partly destroyed. Many destitute farmers are expected to seek temporary jobs in cities to support their families. This is expected to increase the number of urban poor which now stands officially at 19.3 million people.

People across China have been warned by officials from the State Flood and Drought Relief control headquarters that more rainfall is forecast for the end of July and early August.

Chinese officials expressed fears that another wave of deluges may engulf wider parts of the country as the rainy season develops. According to official sources, fighting floods and preventing further soil erosion has been set as a priority task for the Chinese government.

Chinese health authorities put provincial health branches on alert following a World Health Organization report earlier this month on the outbreak of cholera in neighboring Afghanistan. Extensive special protection and epidemic prevention measures are being implemented in flooded areas at high risk of epidemics such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Nepal

Incessant monsoon rains across Nepal during the past four days have triggered flash floods and landslides in 20 out of a total of 75 districts.

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Flood victims in Nepal (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Since the landslides in eastern Nepal, which killed 44 people, on July 14, a total of 198 people have been killed, 115 others have been injured, and 30 people went missing, according to the latest information provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The official national news agency has reported that about 100,000 people in 50 villages have been directly affected by water-logging in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

The road links to the south and north of the capital, Kathmandu, remain obstructed due to landslides, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The floods and landslides have also created disruptions in power and drinking water supplies.

India

Some parts of India are experiencing drought conditions, but floods in the northern and eastern states have affected 10 million people. An estimated 300 people have been killed due to floods, torrential rains and landslides, UN officials report.

The northern and eastern states - Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh - have been the hardest hit by flood waters.

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Flood waters sweep across India destroying lives. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
These states face spreading epidemics of encephalitis, jaundice, dysentery and gastroenteritis after the monsoon rains and swollen rivers wreaked havoc on the area today.

Forecasters predict more heavy rains throughout India in the next few days.

State government authorities are deploying almost 4,000 motorboats for rescue activities and distribution of food in the affected areas. Evacuation of people from the worst affected areas is ongoing. The Assam and Bihar state governments have set up more than 400 relief camps for homeless people.

Official sources in the Assam capital of Guwahati say 56 people have died due to encephalitis in flood relief camps, while another 25 were killed in floods that have affected some 2.5 million people in Assam province.

More than half of Assam state has been flooded as heavy rains burst dams and caused rivers to overflow, inundating more than 5,000 villages and destroying hundreds of thousands of houses. About 2.5 million people have fled to shelter on higher ground.

"Thousands of homeless people in flood affected areas are still vulnerable to diseases like jaundice, dysentery, viral fever, encephalitis and gastroenteritis. We are very worried about them," said Assam Health Minister Bhumidhar Burman.

Floodwaters continue to rise rapidly in Bihar, where more than 10 million people have fled their homes and 91 have died, mostly by drowning, during the past week.

Bihar Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner Girish Shankar said, "The condition is quite alarming in six districts. Soldiers have used helicopters and boats to distribute food and relief materials to stranded people but the water is stagnated and shows no signs of receding."

Bangladesh

Bangladesh now has more than 3.5 million victims of flooding, with half of the country underwater.

India's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre says the situation in central Bangladesh has deteriorated as the rivers Ganges, Jamuna, Brahmaputra, Turag and their tributaries have risen higher and crossed their danger levels.

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Bangladeshi boy waits for help from the Bangladesh Red Crescent (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Continuous heavy rainfall and water from the hills of India have caused flash floods in lowland Bangladesh. The rivers are flowing above the danger level in all of the main rivers in the country.

Thousands of people have taken shelter on high embankments, which surround low lying areas. Those points of high ground have shown evidence of cracking at several locations threatening to plunge many more people into the floodwaters.

Relief agencies are working at capacity to complete arrangements to distribute food and relief materials and are conducting a general survey by boats.

Deaths in Bangladesh and the eastern Indian state of Bihar have raised the toll to almost 550 this month from floods that have affected 17 million people and triggered fears of an epidemic outbreak.