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Floods Test Army-Backed Bangladesh Rulers

A Bangladeshi villager carries metal pitchers, to fetch fresh water, as she wades through floodwaters in the Aricha District of Dhaka, 07 August 2007. Bangladesh's seven-month-old military-backed government is facing its toughest test yet, with millions of people displaced and the economy badly damaged by the worst floods to hit the country in a decade. Nearly two weeks of flooding has killed hundreds and destroyed crops and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars, forcing Bangladesh's rulers to turn to the country's besieged political parties and the wealthy for help. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Shafiq Alam
Dhaka (AFP) Aug 07, 2007
Bangladesh's seven-month-old military-backed government is facing its toughest test yet, with millions of people displaced and the economy badly damaged by the worst floods to hit the country in a decade. Nearly two weeks of flooding has killed hundreds and destroyed crops and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars, forcing Bangladesh's rulers to turn to the country's besieged political parties and the wealthy for help.

"No doubt, the government is facing the toughest test in its short life. Some 40 percent of the land is still under water and monsoon is a long way to go," said Bangladesh flood expert Ainun Nishat.

"Millions of farmers did not have a good crop in the dry season. Now if the flood prolongs or returns with a new wave later this month, a grim future is awaiting them."

The interim government, headed by former central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, came to power in January after months of violence in which at least 35 people died.

Many of Bangladesh's former leaders are now behind bars after a concerted campaign to clean up its notoriously corrupt political system.

But with millions of farmers facing bleak prospects, the government has turned to the political parties for help in dealing with the flood crisis.

"The immediate task of the government is to provide emergency survival relief. And to do that it needs help from every group. Previously, it proved to be a crucial factor," said Saidur Rahman, director of the government Disaster Preparedness Center.

Economist Atiar Rahman said the government could benefit from the experience of former political leaders in distributing aid.

"So far, the amount of food relief that the government provided is not adequate. And the government is in a vulnerable position," he said.

"But if it utilises the experience of previous floods, like the deluge in 1998, I am sure the government can tackle the crisis well."

Government chief Ahmed Sunday appealed to wealthy people and foreign donors amid reports of acute shortages of food and relief items in the flood-hit areas.

The monsoon toll in Bangladesh, a delta nation prone to floods, stands at 282, more than half of whom died in the last 10 days, officials in the capital Dhaka said.

Rain-triggered landslides in June killed 126 and destroyed an estimated 100,000 mud and tin-built houses.

The government said it had distributed 8,000 tonnes of food since heavy rains and the snow-melt from the Himalayans started to submerge areas in the north late last month with the rainy season normally running through September. Nearly two thirds of Bangladesh's 144 million people depend on farming with food staple rice now swamped in countless fields.

Although regular flooding is a boon to farmers, long periods of saturation often destroy crops. In 2004, floods caused damages worth three billion dollars to farmers.

"With food prices hitting the roof, the government is now dependent on the mercy of nature. If nature does not cooperate, the government may have to face the music," Nishat said.

Bangladesh's interim government took over in January after the president imposed a state of emergency and cancelled polls. It has said new polls to return the country to elected rule will be held by December 2008.

At least 150 politicians including a former prime minister have been arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption. The floods are the worst to hit the country since 1998, when 68 percent of the land was submerged for about two months.

earlier related report
Floods ease in Bangladesh but more die
Dhaka (AFP) Aug 7 - Flooding eased in most parts of Bangladesh on Tuesday with major improvements expected over the coming days, the head of country's flood centre said, but the monsoon death toll rose to 300. "All the major rivers are receding fast. Except in the eastern part of the capital, we will now see some dramatic improvement from later today (Tuesday)," said Saiful Hossain, the head of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.

The flood centre monitors the water level of all major rivers in Bangladesh and India.

However, at least 18 more deaths were reported Tuesday, including 10 who died when a boat capsized near northern Bajitpur town, taking the death toll from the past two weeks of floods to 174, police and officials said.

The monsoon season death toll now stands at 300, including 126 who died in landslides and heavy rains in June.

Some 38 of the country's 64 districts in the north, centre and east have been at least partly submerged by one of the worst floods in years, caused by snow melt and heavy monsoon downpours in north and east India.

The warning centre said floods had already started to recede in most parts of northern Bangladesh because of a drop in the level of the Brahmaputra River, known as the Jamuna in Bangladesh.

The Jamuna handles two-thirds of the country's river water flow.

Eastern areas also witnessed significant improvements, Hossain said, adding that the level of the Ganges River, called the Padma in Bangladesh, also dropped at some points.

More than a week of floods submerged some 40 percent of the country, displacing or marooning 9.1 million people and damaging crops, houses and roads, the government said.

Some 100,000 mud-built or tin-roofed houses were destroyed with the residents now in government shelters.

At least a fifth of flood-prone Bangladesh is inundated each year. The delta country is criss-crossed by a network of 230 rivers.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Indian Boat Owners Exploit Floods To Make Money
Madhubani, India (AFP) Aug 07, 2007
Yamuna Devi and her children clung to a tree, waving desperately at a passing boat to rescue them. It paddled off as she had no money to pay for a ride to safety in India's flooded Bihar state. "Pay or perish," the boatman screamed, mumbling obscenities as she numbly stared at the retreating vessel filled with people who had paid 40 rupees (one dollar) each for a ride in the state's cut-off Madhubani district.

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