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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 August, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Bangladesh counts the cost of flooding

By Roland Buerk
BBC correspondent in Savar, Bangladesh

Workers arriving at factory by boat
Floods are costing the garments sector around $3m a day

Bangladesh's economy has been hard hit by weeks of flooding.

The government estimates that the water has caused $7bn worth of damage.

Much agricultural and industrial production has also been lost.

Although the floods are now receding, hundreds of thousands of hectares of fields remain underwater as do thousands of factories.

We joined garment factory workers as they made the morning commute to work in Savar outside Dhaka.

'Huge losses'

The roads are underwater, so they had to go by wooden boat. As the diesel engine puttered and poured out black smoke they floated over what were once paddy fields and brick kilns and what is now a giant lake.

The chimneys poked up from the water.

At Biswas Group they are catching up after weeks of lost production, the staff working hard to make trousers to be sold by a catalogue company.

At one point nearly one in three workers was off sick with illnesses caught from the filthy floodwater.

BGMEA President Annisul Huq
Today the garment industry is seriously affected... if shipments are a few days late, please support us
Annisul Huq, garment manufacturers' association

"We incur huge losses of production," said Rafiqul Islam Shazzad, the manager.

"Here there are six production lines, but two lines were absent due to lack of people."

Others factories have been forced to close down completely. One in Savar that belongs to Mohammadi Group was flooded out two weeks ago.

Now the only way in is along stepping stones made with sandbags.

Inside the ground floor is knee deep in stinking water. Sewing machines and steam irons have been put on tables or moved upstairs to keep them dry.

The factory belongs to Annisul Huq, the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association.

Privileged access

"Today the garment industry is seriously affected," he said. "We urge all our customers all over the world to help us to help this industry.

"If shipments are a few days late, please support us."

Bangladesh's garment industry needs to keep all the business it can.

Women in Bangladesh garments factory
The floods have meant that many garments factories are running below capacity

The factories directly employ two million people and garments account for nearly 80% of all export earnings.

At the end of the year the Multi Fibre Arrangement, the global system of quotas that has given Bangladesh privileged access to markets in the United States and Europe, will be phased out.

The factory owners are paying for mobile clinics.

Doctors travel around towns and villages and set up consulting rooms on the back of trucks.

A long queue of workers waited for oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea and ointment for skin infections contracted in the water.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association estimates the floods are costing the industry nearly $3m a day.

It's money the owners and impoverished Bangladeshis can ill afford to lose.

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21 Jul 04  |  South Asia

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