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Cost of South Asia floods nears one billion dollars

by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Aug 14, 2007
The cost of South Asia's worst flooding in decades has reached nearly one billion dollars, officials said Tuesday, as Bangladesh struggled to cope with a major outbreak of water-borne disease.

Losses in India's worst-hit northeast amounted to 875 million dollars so far, including damage to crops and property, India's home ministry said, while Bangladesh said it had counted crop damage of at least 86 million dollars.

Heavy monsoon rains and flooding since June have killed more than 2,400 people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal and displaced millions of others.

The Indian losses include 100 million dollars in the impoverished state of Bihar, where the flooding affected 15 million people. Standing water could have destroyed the annual harvest for many of the state's farmers, experts said.

"So many people have lost their homes and these are mostly the poorest of the poor. Re-establishing their livelihoods is going to be a major issue," said Vinoy Ohdar, who heads anti-poverty agency ActionAid's Bihar office.

Officials warned the damages figure was a preliminary estimate and could rise, with many areas in the state still cut-off even though flood waters had begun to recede over recent days.

Bihar has asked the Indian government for 800 million dollars aid and promised to compensate farmers and citizens. Relief efforts in the state slowed Monday and Tuesday due to heavy downpours and new flooding in some areas.

But medical teams were making their way to villages to check for disease.

"Fifty doctors' teams are moving out from the health department with logistical support from UNICEF," state relief coordinator Manoj Kumar Srivastava said Tuesday, referring to the UN's agency for children.

Heavy rains also hit new parts of India, including the hilly northern state of Himachal Pradesh, causing flooding and landslides that have killed some 30 people since the weekend, officials told AFP.

Some 14 more deaths were reported in Bihar on Tuesday, taking the toll in India since the start of the monsoon in June to more than 1,800.

Meanwhile doctors in Bangladesh were struggling Tuesday to cope with a major outbreak of disease, with some 100,000 people admitted to hospital in August, its health department said.

The influx had stretched the impoverished country's medical facilities, the department added, but it stopped short of calling the situation an epidemic.

The victims were suffering from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, with clean water in short supply.

"Fifty-three thousand have been affected with diarrhoea. It's not an epidemic but the situation is very serious," said health department chief Shahjahan Biswas, adding that some people had been treated and released.

On Tuesday alone more than 4,000 patients were admitted to hospitals across Bangladesh with diarrhoea, Biswas said.

"We have never seen such a huge number of patients before," said Pradip Bardhan, a doctor at Dhaka's International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research.

Bangladeshi officials counted scores more monsoon-related deaths Tuesday, taking the delta nation's toll since the start of the rains to 569.

More than 10 million people remained stranded by the floods there, even as some families began to return home.

But many faced an uncertain future, with the agriculture ministry estimating farming losses rising towards 100 million dollars.

"According to preliminary estimates crops worth 5.91 billion taka (86 million dollars) have been damaged in the floods," said Shahidul Islam, the director of the department of agriculture.

"The figure is likely to increase when we make the final estimate."

Experts are concerned farming losses could hit Bangladesh's economy and trigger higher food prices.

Nepali officials were still assessing the economic cost of the flooding, as fears of a food crisis grew. The flooding killed 105 people in the Himalayan nation and affected 300,000 others.

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North Korea asks UN agency to help with "massive" floods
Geneva Aug 14, 2007
North Korea has asked the UN's food relief agency for help in the wake of "massive" floods, a spokesman for the World Food Programme said Tuesday.

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