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Monday, August 24, 1998 Published at 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK

World: South Asia

Bangladesh appeals for flood aid

This year's flooding may be one of the worst on record

BBC Dhaka Correspondent, Francis Harrison: "The water has been on the ground for more than a month in many areas"
Bangladesh is launching an international appeal for aid as severe flooding, which has killed nearly 400 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage, is set to get worse.

Officials say high tides are affecting rivers in the centre of the country and flood waters, already waist-deep in places, will continue to rise.

The floods, which have engulfed the country for more than six weeks, are the most severe on record.

United Nations officials say they are worse than the 1988 floods which killed more than 5,000 people.

The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, Abdus Samad Azad, is seeking international aid for millions of people left homeless or destitute. He said about two-thirds of the country was affected.

[ image: Over 700,000 hectares of farm land have been flooded]
Over 700,000 hectares of farm land have been flooded
Many deaths have been blamed on outbreaks of disease, caused by a lack of sanitation and fresh drinking water.

Millions have been left clinging to their swamped homes and more than a million people have taken refuge in makeshift shelters or moved in with friends and relatives.

Many people have been left without jobs and farmers are unable to plant crops on time.

The government says more than 700,000 hectares of crop land has been damaged or destroyed.

Food shortages likely

The Bangladeshi Flood Forecasting Centre expects the flooding to continue until at least mid-September.

Dhaka Correspondent, Francis Harrison: "People in Bangladesh are already malnourished"
Aid workers say food shortages are likely to follow soon, which could threaten the lives of millions of people.

Efforts are now under way to import one million tons of food grain, but that will carry an economic price that Bangladesh cannot easily afford.

[ image: Seasonal flooding: Lasting longer than usual]
Seasonal flooding: Lasting longer than usual
The government, which is sending relief supplies such as dry food to the victims, says the floods have destroyed nearly half a million tonnes of rice in the fields.

"Bangladesh will welcome any form of assistance from any government, international agencies and development partners," Mr Azad told foreign diplomats and donor agencies in Dhaka.

The government is now drawing up a list of requirements in readiness for an international appeal.

The BBC correspondent in Dhaka, Francis Harrison, says that the country can cope with some seasonal flooding, but the longer the water remains on the ground the more hardship it will cause.

Disease main killer

[ image: Disease from lack of sanitation is the main killer]
Disease from lack of sanitation is the main killer
It is the duration of the current flood rather than the depth of the waters - which is not unusually great - that is causing the problems.

Much of Bangladesh is flat delta land easily susceptible to flooding.

With Bangladesh unable to control the sudden increase in river flow from rain and snow-melt in the Indian and Nepali Himalayas, all the country can do each year is predict the flow and prepare for the worst.

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