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. Rivers Recede But Millions Go Hungry In Flooded South Asia

In Bihar, the government's disaster management chief has said relief operations are "in full swing," with millions of kilos of rice and wheat distributed, but many villagers say they are going hungry. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Pratap Chakravarty
Patna, India (AFP) Aug 07, 2007
The toll from severe floods across South Asia soared to nearly 1,900 Tuesday and although water levels in the region's swollen rivers started to recede, millions of people still faced hunger. Aid workers struggled to deliver supplies to some of the 28 million people displaced across India, Bangladesh and Nepal by the worst monsoon-triggered flooding in decades, with some areas unreachable due to the high waters. In India's Bihar state, 12 million people have seen their homes and farmland partially or totally submerged after the worst flooding in 30 years.

An overcrowded boat -- one of scores ferrying the marooned to safety -- capsized late Monday in the impoverished state, claiming the lives of at least 65 people, police told AFP.

Six women drowned in a separate boat accident, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Some villagers and officials reported that boat owners were only rescuing those who paid, with the going rate about 40 rupees (one dollar) a head.

"We had just enough money to pay for myself and our children and so we had to leave behind my husband," said an angry Khusboo Paswan, from Samastipur district, 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of the state capital Patna.

She was later reunited with her husband Mohan after volunteers rescued him and brought him to a highway junction that is now home to thousands of people forced from their homes by the floods.

Parts of Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Assam states were also submerged during the rains, affecting another 6.5 million people, although officials said the situation had improved in Assam.

India's national disaster management agency said 1,294 people had died of monsoon-related causes from June 1 to Monday.

But figures given by state officials in Uttar Pradesh and numerous boat accidents in Bihar late Monday brought the toll close to 1,500.

Health experts and aid agencies continued to express fears about the possibility of disease outbreaks.

"Entire villages are days away from a health crisis if people are not reached," said Marzio Babille, health chief of the India arm of UN child welfare agency UNICEF.

"Stagnant waters left by the floods are a lethal breeding ground for diarrhoeal and waterborne diseases at potential epidemic level."

In Bihar, the government's disaster management chief has said relief operations are "in full swing," with millions of kilos of rice and wheat distributed, but many villagers say they are going hungry.

"We have not received any relief or even a fistful of grains in the past 15 days," Shauki Sani told AFP in Majhouli village in Bihar's ravaged Darbhanga district.

"Our entire family is going hungry."

In Bangladesh, where the death toll stands at 300, the military-backed government has appealed to political parties, wealthy citizens and foreign countries to help rush food supplies to nine million flood victims.

River waters were receding quickly, Bangladesh's flood monitoring agency said Tuesday, but inundated areas reported acute shortages of food even as officials said 8,000 tonnes of food had been distributed since late July.

Crops on 1.4 million acres (560,000 hectares) of farmland and 16,500 kilometres (10,200 miles) of roads were completely or partially damaged, the government has said.

In Nepal, at least 95 people have died in landslides and floods since the beginning of June, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More than 330,000 people have been affected, mostly in the southern plains bordering Bihar, it said Tuesday, adding that UN agencies were in the process of trying to supply food aid to the worst-affected.

Nepal said Tuesday its relief teams were having a difficult time reaching those most in need, with bad roads further damaged by the rains.

"Accessibility is a problem," health ministry spokesman Arjun Bahadur Singh told AFP. "Highways are blocked, there is no transportation and it is very hard for our medical response teams to get to some of the worst-affected areas."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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As they work to protect the nation's food supply from accidental contamination and intentional threats, food industry and homeland security experts alike are feeling the weight of the world. "You can't buy a hamburger without touching the global system," said Col. John T. Hoffman, a senior research fellow with the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, in Minneapolis.

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