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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Bangladesh prays for floods to ease

By Roland Buerk
BBC correspondent in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

Health checks in Munshiganj
Doctors check for diarrhoea or cholera to stop an outbreak early
Bangladesh floods annually with the monsoon rains, but not like this.

More than half of the country's 64 districts are underwater, up to 20m people are marooned or homeless and the government is considering appealing for international aid if it lasts much longer.

"One week back I used to feel we were in the normal stage but as the days go on and on I found this is getting more and more serious," says Salim Bhuiyan, executive engineer at the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.

"If you consider the north and north-east of the country in the past one and half months, at times it has crossed the danger level."

Knee-deep

Munshiganj, south of the capital, Dhaka, is also badly affected.

Already people have been wading knee-deep in the streets of the main town for more than a week and it is likely to get worse.

Flood victim Josna and her baby in Munshiganj, Bangladesh
How can I live with the baby like this? If he falls in he'll be washed away
Josna, Munshiganj resident

The district lies where the three rivers that cross Bangladesh meet, and much of the water that has caused chaos across South Asia must pass here on its way to the sea.

Local officials have to take to boats to distribute aid to outlying areas.

Abdul Barki is the civil servant in charge.

"The problem is gradually increasing. Many roads were not submerged but now all the roads in this Upazila region are cut off."

He said the main problem was communicating with the people who desperately required help.

We puttered through a vast area that was once fields and is now a lake.

Where rice should be growing after the recent planting season, water hyacinths bobbed on the silt-brown surface.

Rice aid in Munshiganj
Ten kilograms of rice will feed a family for just a few days

People were camping on the bridges, some of the quarter of a million people affected by the flooding in this small district alone.

We found Josna and her baby son sitting in a shelter made of bamboo, straw and corrugated iron on stilts.

They were surrounded by miles of water. It flowed just a few inches under the floor of their makeshift home and it was rising.

"Is anything worse than this?" she asked.

They had moved to the shelter a week ago when their house was submerged, soon they will be flooded out for a second time.

"It is possible to live without eating for one day or to stay in someone else's house for a couple of days but this is going on. How can I live with the baby like this? If he falls in he'll be washed away."

Embankments

The local officials had come to distribute rice in the nearby village of Tongibari.

Hundreds of people were gathered around a table shouting and shoving.

The names of the most desperately needy were called out and they came forward to receive their ration.

Boat building in Munshiganj
Boat building has become a boom industry in Munshiganj

Ten kilograms of rice, enough to last a family for just a few days. It is a start but it is not much.

"It is not possible to survive on this food. I can only manage two or three days with this rice," said one man.

"It's not much but I have nothing else," said one woman. "At least now I can cook and eat."

Across the flood-affected regions hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people are moving to higher ground.

Often the embankments of roads are the only dry land left and they are crowded with people and livestock.

Boat building is a boom industry.

Precarious

The big risk is epidemics.

In Munshiganj and other districts, emergency clinics have been set up.

Doctors check for any cases of diarrhoea or cholera, hoping to stop an outbreak early.

"If there is any source of disease we are ready," said Dr Mohammed Golam Kibria, the local health officer.

"We have medical teams and I think there should not be a problem as all the people, the community as well as our medical teams, they are all alert."

The victims of Bangladesh's floods are surviving for now, the death toll has been remarkably low, but every day their situation becomes more precarious.

"I think it will be dangerous if it continues for long because people will be suffering," said Mustafizur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj.

"They have no shelter, their crops are damaged and there are health hazards. We are endeavouring to protect them but it is not sufficient. If it continues for long it will be very hard for us to protect them."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Roland Buerk
"Forty of the country's 64 districts are reporting that they are under water"



SEE ALSO:
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Bangladesh battles flood chaos
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