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Urgent Assistance Needed For South Asia's Flood Victims

  • Anjana Pasricha

In South Asia, officials and aid groups are calling for urgent assistance to help nearly 30 million people facing hunger, homelessness and disease in the aftermath of massive floods. The floods have claimed at least 400 lives across India, Bangladesh and Nepal in the last two weeks. Anjana Pasricha reports from the Indian capital, New Delhi.

As the weather cleared this week, officials in India, Bangladesh and Nepal scrambled to bring food and clean drinking water to tens of thousands of villages submerged by overflowing rivers.

The flooding is most severe in India. Three of the poorest states in the north and east - Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh - have borne the brunt of the disaster.

India's Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav says efforts are underway to help the victims.

Yadav promised to use India's vast rail network to get water and medicines to the victims. He said the lives of millions of people have been severely affected and the situation is bleak.

Helicopters have dropped food supplies where floodwaters have cut off access by either rail or road - but aid workers say many people are still scrambling for food.

Aid agencies are urging quicker distribution of emergency supplies to ward off hunger and disease.

Oxfam is one of the charities assisting in the relief effort in South Asia. The agency's humanitarian head, Orla Murphy, says temporary shelters and water are needed urgently.

"Many households have lost their homes completely or they have been partially destroyed. Support with shelter, access to clean drinking water is clearly a priority for us," said Murphy.

In Bangladesh, where nearly half the country is submerged, the government has appealed to wealthy citizens, and to foreign countries, to assist in the relief effort.

Douglas Broderick, head of the World Food Program in Dhaka, says waters are receding in many areas, but tens of thousands of flood victims are coping with food shortages.

"We are giving high energy biscuits that are able to help people with hunger and to be able to sustain them for the time being, in those areas where we do have some difficulties with access we are using boats to bring that into the people," he said.

The relief effort is likely to be needed for many weeks. There are fears that water- and mosquito-borne diseases will spread in the coming days. And fresh bouts of flooding are not being ruled out, as more rains are likely. The annual monsoon season lasts until September.

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