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Bangladesh Says Up to 20 Million Flood Victims Need Food - 2004-08-03


The Bangladesh government says up to 20 million people will be in need of food aid for the next several months following devastating floods that submerged much of the country. International agencies are stepping-up assistance for flood victims.

Floodwaters that have swamped two-thirds of the country since mid-July are receding, but the disaster is far from over.

Food and Disaster Minister Chowdhury Kamal Yusuf says the government is gearing up to give up to 20 million people food assistance for the next five months.

The damage is colossal. Across the country farms are flooded, household food stocks have been washed away, homes have been destroyed and millions of people are cut off from work and incomes.

Tony Maryon, head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says relief workers are helping victims cope with the aftermath of the flooding: hunger and disease.

"At the moment they have no work, and there will be no work for the next two or three months," he said. "Thousands and thousands of hectares of crops have been lost. So from an economic point of view again that is another disaster for Bangladesh, and it is going to take a lot of help and a lot of time to recover."

International agencies such as the International Red Cross and the World Food Program have appealed to donors to provide millions of dollars in aid to help distribute food and medicine. A United Nations team is in Bangladesh to assess the country's rehabilitation needs.

The United Nations says relief workers have begun traveling by boat to bring food and clean water to some three million people who are the hardest hit.

It is not just outlying areas that have been affected. In the capital city, Dhaka, people are struggling to find clean drinking water. Drains and sewers have overflowed. All over the country, water-borne diseases are spreading, adding to a death toll that has already surpassed 1,300. Bangladesh's government has estimated the damage to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and industry at $7 billion. The floods have also disrupted the country's main foreign currency-earner, its textile industry.

This year's floods are already being called the worst in the last 15 years, and the devastation has hit early in the monsoon season. There are worries that new rains might trigger additional floods in the coming weeks.

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