Growing floods toll hampers coronavirus efforts in South Asia

Torrential downpours in the region, while critical to replenishing water sources, also cause death and destruction.

Flood in Bangladesh
Millions of people have been affected by monsoon floods, devastating large areas of India, Bangladesh and Nepal [File: Anadolu Agency]

The death toll from monsoon floods across South Asia has increased to more than 350 in recent weeks, with villages still submerged and tens of thousands displaced as authorities battle with rising coronavirus cases.

The torrential downpours across the densely populated region are critical to replenishing rivers and groundwater, but also cause widespread death and destruction.

In Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers, 129 people have died from the floods and flood-related illnesses, officials said on Friday.

About one-third of the delta nation remains underwater. The floods have dragged on for a month in what authorities said was the worst inundation since 2004.

“The house is underwater, no food, not enough drinking water,” farmer Muzaffar Ali from northeastern Sunamganj district told the AFP news agency.

“In this situation who cares about social distancing or wearing masks? I leave it to God. He will decide.”

Nepal has been badly hit by landslides and floods, with at least 155 people killed and 57 missing since mid-June, according to the home ministry.

“The threat of COVID-19 adds challenges for our rescue and search teams,” Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Centre chief Murari Wasti told AFP. 

The number of landslides has increased this year, with experts saying the enormous 2015 earthquake and more road construction could be triggering the deadly slips.

“The earthquake… it loosens the earth and heavy monsoon rains can cause disturbance. This year could be a cumulative effect,” geologist Basanta Raj Adhikari told AFP.

In India’s northeastern state of Assam, where at least 50 people have died in the past 10 days, floodwaters were receding as officials scrambled to help 1.5 million people whose homes and communities were damaged.

More than 37,000 villagers remain in relief camps and special attention was being given to health-related issues, Assam Disaster Management Authority coordinator Pankaj Chakrarvarty told AFP.

“It’s not always possible to maintain social distancing in the camps,” said one evacuee, Ranjit Rabha. “Thankfully, here in our camp, we don’t have any COVID-19 positive residents.”

At Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage Site, 143 animals have died so far, including 16 rare one-horned rhinos. 

Flood-affected villagers disembark a boat after they reached a safer place at Kachua village
Flood-affected villagers disembark a boat after they reached a safer place at Kachua village in Assam’s Nagaon district [File: Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters]

India’s Bihar faces twin threat

In India’s impoverished Bihar state, home to 125 million people, at least 24 have died and at least four million have been affected by heavy rains, with homes and villages damaged.

More than 300,000 people were evacuated to relief camps and officials warned of further cloudbursts in the next two days.

The eastern state, which has a fragile healthcare system, has recorded more than 48,000 COVID-19 infections and 282 virus-related deaths.

That is a far lower death toll than other densely populated states that are witnessing a sharp rise in cases, but with experts warning of multiple peaks in India, Bihar could be facing an uphill task to halt the virus.

“Unless the state government acts on the lines of the New Delhi government where hotels were turned into extended hospitals and emphasis was laid on testing, the situation would go beyond control,” said Dr Sunil Kumar, a senior health expert in Bihar

According to data compiled by John Hopkins University, India has so far recorded nearly 1.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

Officials in Bihar fear the flooding could worsen the spread of the infectious disease.

“Reaching out to flood victims and providing them help is not easy due to fear of the pandemic,” relief worker Mahendar Yadav said.

India’s cricket captain Virat Kolhi and his actress wife Anushka Sharma on Thursday pledged to support flood relief in Bihar and Assam.

Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who was born in Bihar, also promised to donate to relief efforts.

Flash floods in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, at least 16 people, including 15 children aged between one and five years, and a woman were killed and dozens of houses destroyed as flash floods lashed a village in eastern Afghanistan, an official said on Saturday.

Flooding caused by torrential rains struck a village in Nangarhar province late on Friday, district governor Naimatullah Noorzai told AFP news agency.

Four children were also injured and dozens of houses were destroyed, Noorzai said.

A relief operation was under way to help affected families, with the disaster striking as the country celebrates the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Summer often brings heavy rainfalls in eastern Afghanistan. Flash floods in the region often leave hundreds of people dead and many more injured every year.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies