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'Moderate' Monsoon Season in South Asia Has Ended Drought, Killed 800 - 2003-07-30

More than one month of monsoon rains has been a mixed blessing for South Asia. In parts of the region, the rains have brought a welcome end to several years of drought; in other areas, however, more than 800 people have died.

The effects of this year's rains have varied greatly. In some areas, the rains have been very heavy, causing major flooding and mudslides and killing people, destroying homes and ruining crops.

So far, more than 800 people have been killed throughout the region, and more than five million have been affected overall.

The head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for South Asia, Robert McKerrow, describes this year's situation as "moderate" compared to 1998, when more than 20 million people were affected. But, said Mr. McKerrow, there is still reason for concern. "In the northeastern area of India and Bangladesh and the foothills of Nepal, we're seeing a reasonably serious situation developing," he said.

In some areas, people have drowned in rain-swollen streams and rivers. In other areas, they have been killed when their homes were washed away or collapsed under mudslides. There have been reports of people electrocuted by downed power lines. And, in India's eastern state of Bihar, several people died after being bitten by snakes, which had been washed out of their holes.

Robert McKerrow said there is also growing concern about diseases setting in. "With many million people having been affected in the past month, with a lot of water lying around, there is always the threat of water borne diseases," he stressed. "Here in Delhi alone, there have been a number of cases reported of cholera."

"The other worry is that the monsoon is not over," he continued. "It is an above average monsoon. The rains are very heavy, so the ground is saturated. So, if this rain keeps up for another two to three weeks, we could see a much more serious situation."

While the rains have brought death and devastation to some areas of South Asia, other areas such as northern India, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, have benefited. They're welcoming an end to several years of severe drought.