Millions left homeless by monsoons in India

LAHORIGHAT, India – The flooded Brahmaputra River has cut a vicious swath through India’s remote northeast, killing hundreds of people, leveling homes, washing away schools and leaving millions homeless.

Arun Kalita’s village was swept away, and he now lives with his wife and four children in a tarpaulin-roofed riverbank shelter, depending on government handouts to stave off hunger for himself, his wife and his children.

Kalita is one of the lucky ones – he and his family survived. But he’s haunted by the memory of the home he lost.

”We just kept watching from a distance and could do nothing,” said Kalita, 57, his voice choked with emotion. ”My home now lies on the river bed.”

Annual monsoon flooding has wreaked havoc across South Asia, killing more than 900 people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal since June and displacing or trapping about 25 million more.

Some of the most isolated victims are in Assam, along the rugged foothills of the Hima-layas. At least 39 people have died and nearly a quarter of the state’s 26 million residents are now homeless.

After two weeks of destruction, the rains have slowed and the floodwaters have started receding in much of Assam. But the monsoon-driven weather is unpredictable, and officials worry that intense rains could begin again, raising the water level and bringing more flooding.

In all, monsoon floods have killed at least 323 people in India, according to official estimates.

Another 157 people have died in neighboring Bangladesh. Water levels in the Ganges, Brah-maputra and Jamuna rivers, which had receded last week, began rising again Wednesday following fresh downpours in the country’s north, officials said.

But the highest death toll has been in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, where at least 424 people have either been swept away by swirling floodwaters or crushed under mudslides in remote mountain villages.

Relief officials throughout South Asia are now trying to prevent waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid, which are deadly in impoverished regions.

When the waters come, their destruction is often absolute. In recent days in eastern India, a postman was swept away, a 7-year-old boy drowned and two men died when their boat sank in the Gandak River.

An overflowing river is now threatening to inundate low-lying areas around Patna, the populous capital city of Bihar state, relief officials said Thurs-day.

In Assam, thousands of stranded people have started returning to their ruined villages, hoping to rebuild their homes and begin their lives afresh.

The monsoon rains last until late September in this part of India, and with the government lacking the resources to build dams, it is flooded nearly every year.

”There is still some hope for those who have their homes intact. But for the families whose homes have been completely washed away by the floodwaters, life will have no meaning unless the government provides land and money,” said Dandi Nath Saikia, headman of Sootea village.

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