Floods in Bangladesh and India hamper access to food and clean water

Debi Edward reports after flooding left millions of people homeless

Days of flooding are challenging authorities in South Asia as they try to deliver food and drinking water to shelters across submerged swathes of India and Bangladesh. The high water brought on by seasonal monsoon downpours has already claimed more than a dozen lives, displaced hundreds of thousands and flooded millions of homes. Those who remain in their homes were left wading through streets flooded up to their knees.

Local TV said millions remained without electricity.

Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster and relief, said that up to 100,000 people have been evacuated in the worst-hit districts, including Sylhet. About four million people have been marooned in the area, the United News of Bangladesh said. Flooding also continued to ravage India’s northeastern Assam state where two police officers taking part in rescue operations were washed away by floodwaters on Sunday, an official in the state capital Gauhati said. Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Monday his administration was in the process of airlifting food and fuel by military helicopters to some parts of the state that were badly affected.

Life goes on: A restaurant worker and stall owner continue to trade as floodwater submerges their legs

Assam has been reeling from massive floods after heavy torrential rains over the past few weeks made the Brahmaputra River break its banks, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links. The Brahmaputra flows from Tibet through India and into Bangladesh on a nearly 500-mile (800-kilometre) journey through Assam. Major roads in Bangladesh have been submerged, leaving people stranded. In the country that has a history of climate change-induced disasters, many expressed their frustration that authorities haven’t done more locally. “There isn’t much to say about the situation. You can see the water with your own eyes. Water level inside the room has dropped a bit. It used to be up to my waist,” said Muhit Ahmed, owner of a grocery shop in Sylhet.

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Bangladesh called in soldiers on Friday to help evacuate people, but Mr Ahmed has yet to see any of them firsthand. “All in all, we are in a great disaster. Neither the Sylhet City Corporation nor anyone else came here to inquire about us,” he said.

“I am trying to save my belongings as much as I can. We don’t have the ability to do any more now.” In its latest statement, the country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre said on Sunday that flooding in the northeastern districts of Sunamganj and Sylhet could worsen further in next 24 hours.

It said the Teesta, a major river in northern Bangladesh, may flow above dangerous levels.

The situation could also deteriorate in the country’s northern districts of Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Gaibandha, Bogra, Jamalpur and Sirajganj, it said. Officials said water has started receding from the northeastern region but is posing a threat to the country’s central region, where floodwaters flow south to the Bay of Bengal. Media reports said those affected by flooding in remote areas are struggling to access drinking water and food.

Indian soldiers carry a goat from a boat.

BRAC, a non-governmental nonprofit organisation in Bangladesh, opened a centre on Monday to prepare food items as part of a plan to feed 5,000 families in one of the affected districts, but the arrangement was not enough, said senior director Arinjoy Dhar. In a video posted online, Mr Dhar asked for help ensuring food for the flood-affected, saying they alone were trying to reach out to about 52,000 families with emergency supplies. Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood triggered by a rush of water from upstream in India’s northeastern states hit Bangladesh’s northern and northeastern regions, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads. Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is low-lying and faces threats from natural disasters such as floods and cyclones, made worse by climate change. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of people in Bangladesh would need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate.