Bangladesh Flood Toll 400; Millions Homeless
Battered by monsoon flooding that has killed more than 400 people and left millions homeless, Bangladesh lost its lifeline to the outside world Friday when Dhaka airport was closed to international flights.
Officials closed the facility after runways became flooded but did not spell out alternative arrangements to bring in relief supplies.
At least 20 other cities in the impoverished nation of 104 million remained stricken by flooding that began in mid-July when rivers, swollen by monsoon deluges, began spilling over their banks.
Officials said the nationwide death toll had risen to at least 400. But unofficial estimates and news reports listed fatalities ranging from 590 to 800 in the catastrophe affecting almost all of the 55,590-square-mile nation.
Fears of health problems rose, with officials reporting shortages of food and clean drinking water. One newspaper said 300 people had died from diarrhea caused by polluted water, but officials would confirm only 13 such deaths.
Bangladesh has made an urgent international appeal for aid, and relief officials say thousands of people face starvation unless it arrives soon.
President Hussain Mohammed Ershad, whose own home in the capital has been inundated, said the floods were the worst the nation had ever faced.
‘Survival Seems Difficult’
“This time, survival seems difficult,” he has said.
Officials said 85% of the capital of 4 million was under water, with the depths of the flooding ranging from several inches to more than 4 feet. The military facility where Ershad lives was under knee-deep water, according to one official.
Clinging for survival to rooftops or whatever patches of high ground they can find, flood victims face a constant threat from poisonous snakes. At least 30 people are said to have died so far from snake bites.
Last year, in flooding that was described as the worst in 40 years, 1,600 people died. Even at the height of the disaster, though, the airport was able to stay open.
But by late afternoon Friday, water had crept across the runways, forcing it to shut down.
Since road and rail services to Dhaka from the rest of the country were cut earlier in the week, the airport closure snapped the city’s last transport link with other parts of Bangladesh and the world.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Dhaka, army and civilian volunteers were struggling to repair a leaking embankment that threatened to collapse and flood an area where more than half a million people live. The government warned the residents that the breaches were beginning to widen and that there was no guarantee of the dike’s stability.