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The BBC's Owen Bennet-Jones in Hanoi
"The evacuees need both food and shelter"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Millions threatened by Asia floods
House in Long An, Vietnam
Many delta houses are flooded nearly to the rafters
More than four million people along the Mekong river in South-East Asia are now affected by the worst floods in a generation, aid workers say.

We are starting to distribute thousands of lifebelts - The nearest land (for many) is about two kilometers away

International Red Cross chief
Areas of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand have all been hit hard by unseasonably early and heavy monsoon rains.

Across the region official figures put the number of dead at more than 160, but aid agencies say they expect that figure to rise considerably before the crisis eases.

"It is very difficult to estimate (the numbers affected) - almost by definition, the worst hit areas are impossible to get to," said Peter Walker, southeast Asia chief for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent .

In the Mekong delta most major roads have been cut and vast areas have been turned into inland seas.

Rain has now abated, but flood waters rose another three centimetres on Monday night in the delta, bringing them to within a couple of centimetres of a 40-year record.

Waters levels are expected to remain dangerously high, with the dry season not due to begin until November.

Cambodian fishermen in flood
Cambodian fishermen battle with strong currents on the Mekong
"In the Mekong delta, about half a million people are literally camping out on dykes which may collapse," Mr Walker said.

The Red Cross is distributing lifebelts as a last resort to residents, he added.

Food shortages

Thailand, the world's main rice exporter, has seen more than half a million hectares (1.5 million acres) of paddy fields damaged by the flooding.

Flood crisis
119 dead
1.4 million affected
Capital, Phnom Penh, under threat of flooding
30 dead
500,000 affected
Flooding in Mekong Delta area worst in 40 years
28 dead
Central region under threat
Dams in danger of bursting

Vietnam, the world's number two producer, has suffered less damage as most of the rice harvest has already been collected.

In many areas irrigation channels built up over decades have been totally destroyed.

Laos faces food shortages after heavy floods hit the major rice producing areas of the central and southern lowlands, the Red Cross said.

Phnom Penh residents have been nervously watching the rising waters
Cambodia's disaster agency says it is trying to distribute emergency supplies, including food and medicine, to more than 1.4 million people.

Relief agencies have appealed for millions of dollars in international aid to help those affected across the region.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has blamed much of the flooding on massive deforestation in Cambodia.

"There is an obvious relationship of cause and effect between the two phenomena," he said, adding that about half of Cambodia's forests have been cut down in recent years.

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See also:

17 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mekong floods worsen
14 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
In Pictures: The Mekong floods
11 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam prepares for Mekong flood
08 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Flood waters threaten Cambodian capital
07 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines hit by killer storms
28 Aug 99 | World
Nature's lethal weapons
22 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam: legacy of the floods
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