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Floods Ravage Bangladesh - 2001-08-03

Floods are wrecking havoc in several parts of South Asia as monsoon rains sweep across the region. In Bangladesh more than 250,000 people have been engulfed by flood waters. The rain-fed monsoon floods have hit several northern districts in Bangladesh, driving tens of thousands of villagers out of their homes. Many have taken shelter on mud embankments built to protect the villages.

The latest area to be flooded is the northern frontier district of Kurigram. Authorities say two men and four children there drowned when their boat capsized. Boats and homemade rafts are used extensively when highways and dirt roads become submerged. Relief workers are also using boats to distribute dry food and water purification tablets.

The floods have inundated vast stretches of farmland, raising fears that crops could be damaged. Schools have been closed in several districts. The government's Disaster Management Ministry held a high-level meeting to review the crisis. Officials say they are making preparations to deal with the disaster.

Bangladesh is a delta nation crisscrossed by more than 200 rivers. Most of them originate in the Himalayas in India or Nepal, and floods spread across the plains when these rivers overflow.

In neighboring India, at least three eastern states are facing the flood's fury. Orissa is coping with the aftermath of severe flooding that spread across the state last month. Authorities in Bihar state asked the army to assist in rescue operations Friday as waters began covering scores of villages. In the northeastern Assam state, an estimated 80,000 people are homeless with hundreds of villages under water.

Environmentalists say the annual flooding is being aggravated by extensive deforestation in the Himalayas where South Asia's giant river systems originate. They say the destruction of forests in the high mountain areas is sending greater volumes of water and silt downstream.