From: Reuters
Published August 26, 2007 08:15 AM

Toll rises in South Asia floods

PATNA, India (Reuters) - Flood victims in eastern India were eating raw wheat flour to survive as devastating monsoon flooding in South Asia continued to spread misery among millions.


Nearly 2,000 people have been killed by snake bites, drowning, diarrhea and in house collapses since July when swollen rivers burst their banks, inundating huge areas in eastern India and Bangladesh.


The toll rose by 74 over the weekend.


In India's impoverished state of Bihar, villagers were eating wheat flour after mixing it with water because they could not cook, underlying the inadequacy of government relief efforts, even after weeks of flooding.


"My family has been chewing flour soaked in water to survive as we do not have access to firewood to make rotis (bread)," said Genu Sada, 90, in Begusarai district on Sunday.


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At least 60 bodies were found by authorities since Saturday, pushing the death toll to 480 in Bihar since floods began in mid-July, officials said.


Angry at meager relief supplies, villagers blocked roads on Saturday evening at eight places in the state, demanding more food, witnesses said.


"We are doing whatever we can to help the people in crisis," said Satish Chandra Jha, a senior government official.


TRUCKS AS HOMES


In neighboring West Bengal state, hundreds of people have turned trucks stranded on highways into makeshift homes. Flood waters have swamped vast areas, making elevated roads points of refuge.


"We are sleeping and eating inside the trucks as there is water everywhere and we have nowhere to go," Anukul Samanta, a villager in West Midnapore district, said.


In the eastern state of Orissa, at least four villagers have died from water-borne diseases since Saturday, pushing the overall toll to 43 in the state since floods began earlier this month.


Water was receding in many places, officials said.


Separately, health workers in the state were also struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has killed 90 people in the past two weeks.


At least 4,000 people in 70 villages were sick and efforts were underway to stop the disease from reaching epidemic proportions, officials said.


The outbreak in Orissa has been caused by drinking polluted water and eating contaminated meat, they added.


Across the border in Bangladesh, hundreds have died over the past few weeks during massive flooding, with thousands of people suffering from diarrhea.


At least 10 more people had died since Saturday, pushing the toll to 702 in the worst-ever floods in the densely populated country.


"Water-borne diseases, including diarrhea are still a threat," Maksuda Begum, a health official, said.


Monsoon flooding occurs in the region each year but the rains this season has been particularly heavy and incessant, leading some experts to blame climate change as a possible cause.


(Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir in Dhaka and a Reuters reporter in Bhubaneswar)


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