Thursday, July 5, 2007

Deadly Monsoon Rains Worst in 25 Years

Environment News Service: 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.

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.

… 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.

…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."

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