PATNA, India, (Reuters) – Residents in eastern India complained on Wednesday about the smell of corpses floating in flood waters as the toll from widespread monsoon flooding in South Asia rose by 68 overnight.
Close to 1,800 people have died from drowning, house collapses, snakebite and waterborne diseases in the densely populated and largely impoverished region since July, as heavy monsoon rains caused numerous rivers to burst their banks.
Millions of people are living in miserable conditions — many of them homeless or stranded on crowded embankments — with relief operations patchy in many areas.
Some parts of eastern India and Bangladesh have remained flooded for weeks, causing a spike in waterborne diseases.
In India’s eastern region, at least 300,000 people were suffering from diarrhoea and other waterborne illnesses, with complaints that authorities were not doing enough to assist them.
In the impoverished Indian state of Bihar, residents and officials said dozens of bodies could be seen floating in flood waters in the worst-hit districts.
“The unbearable stench of rotting corpses floating in the water has made us sick,” Anupiya Devi, a resident of Samastipur district, told reporters.
Authorities said many bodies were yet to be identified.
BRIMMING CUP OF WOES
The widespread flooding has led to nearly 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of cultivable land being submerged in Bihar, resulting in a steep rise in vegetable prices.
In West Bengal state, which neighbours Bihar, authorities asked the Indian army to help relief and rescue operations with over 1.1 million people affected by fresh flooding over the past week across four districts.
In West Midnapore district, people shouting “we want food” protested against the pace of the relief effort.
Further south, in the mineral-rich state of Orissa, which shares a border with West Bengal, flood waters have affected 1.2 million people, and destroyed thousands of homes, officials said.
More than 100,000 people were marooned. Authorities were finding it difficult to reach them due to a shortage of boats.
“Most areas are still not accessible and we are trying to reach flood victims,” said A.C. Parihari, a senior official, speaking from Bhubaneswar, the state capital.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, flood waters that had inundated over half the riverine, low-lying nation were receding.
As the water levels fell, more bodies were found.
Overnight, the toll in one of the world’s poorest nations from weeks of monsoon flooding rose by 23 — including two from diarrhoea — pushing the total number of fatalities to 638.
At least 73,000 cases of diarrhoea have been reported since late July. Many people are unable to access safe drinking water in flooded areas.
Monsoon flooding in South Asia is an annual phenomenon but this year’s particularly heavy rainfall in eastern India has led to some experts blaming climate change as one possible cause.
Government ineptitude in preparing and dealing with the floods has made a bad situation even worse, they add.
(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in Kolkata, a Reuters reporter in Bhubaneswar and Azad Majumdar in Dhaka)