Deaths mount despite ebbing floods in Bangladesh

DHAKA (Reuters) - Floods that swept across low-lying Bangladesh for nearly a month are receding fast but flood-related suffering and deaths will not stop anytime soon, officials said on Friday.

They said the confirmed death toll in the floods, which affected districts across more than half the country, rose to 678 by Friday, and was likely to go up as people return to their devastated homes.

The floods have also displaced or made homeless around seven million Bangladeshis, washed away rice and other crops on around 700,000 hectares of land, and destroyed hundreds of kilometres of roads, according to preliminary official estimates.

“Unfortunately, people are still dying in areas where the waters have receded below normal flood levels, but left villages still water-logged,” said an official in northern Kurigram district.

Officials blamed the problem mainly on poor drainage caused by indiscriminate construction of roads and highways without adequate sluice gates or water passages.

Most of the flood deaths have been due to drowning, house collapses and snakebites rather than diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.

The latter, mostly diarrhoea, have infected more than 80,000 Bangladesh flood victims, but only around 20 are known to have died from the illnesses.

A majority of victims have been children, many of whom slipped into the water in their flooded homes at night from makeshift, raised platforms where they and their parents were sleeping, one official said.

In some areas, people had tied their children to bamboo poles to try to keep them from falling into the water.

Children and sometimes adults also drowned as they fell from rafts made with banana trees while trying to reach a shelter or get to relief supplies, said an official in Sirajganj, one of the worst hit districts, 150 km (95 miles) north of Dhaka.

Officials said that among 40 deaths reported from the flooded districts since Wednesday, just two were from diarrhoea while the others were from drownings or snakebites.

“Snakes often creep into people’s beds looking for shelter as their natural habitat had been lost in the floods,” said Abul Kalam, a villager in northern Dinajpur district.

He added that the snakes frequently bit and killed people when they discovered the serpents and try to remove them.

Officials said they fear more problems as people who fled the floods go back to their homes to face new challenges including lack of food and shelter.

“Where shall I live? I have no shed on my head or crop in the field. All have gone with the deluge,” said Manjela Begum of Kurigram, 350 km (210 miles) north of Dhaka.

At Sariakandi, near Bogra, villagers said they faced an added problem as thieves stole their cattle.

“I cannot restart farming soon as I have no cattle to plough my land,” one villager said.

The country’s army-backed interim government, headed by former central back chief Fakhruddin Ahmed, said his administration was doing everything possible to save people from hunger in the post-flood period.

Relief operations have been smooth -- though still inadequate -- under the supervision of the army, officials in the affected areas told reporters.

Additional reporting by Hasibur Rahman Bilu in BOGRA