Over 1 million marooned in Bangladesh as floods worsen

In this photograph taken on July 12, 2020, people make their way through flood waters in Sunamgong. (AFP)
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Updated 14 July 2020

Over 1 million marooned in Bangladesh as floods worsen

  • Water levels at major rivers were rising Tuesday at around two dozen points in 20 districts
  • Bangladesh is crisscrossed by 230 rivers, including 53 shared with India

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Heavy flooding is worsening in parts of Bangladesh, with over 1 million villagers marooned or leaving their homes for higher ground along with their cattle and other belongings, officials and volunteers said Tuesday.
Water levels at major rivers were rising Tuesday at around two dozen points in 20 districts. Many new areas in northern, northeastern and central Bangladesh have been affected over last 24 hours, Arifuzzman Bhuiyan, an executive engineer with the Water Development Board, said by phone. Bangladesh has 64 districts.
“The situation is worsening," he said. “The worst thing is that the floods are getting prolonged this year, which is a bad sign.”
Bhuiyan said heavy rainfall and rushing waters from upstream India were the main reasons for the floods in the delta nation of 160 million people, which receives monsoon rains between June and October every year, often leading to flooding.
The floods started late last month, and after briefly easing continued to worsen, affecting many new areas, destroying crops and driving people from their homes in several impoverished regions. Bangladesh is crisscrossed by 230 rivers, including 53 shared with India.
In the northern district of Kurigram, one of the worst-hit areas, thousands of villagers have moved from their homes to higher ground since the weekend, bringing along their cattle and other belongings, said Mizanur Rahman Soikat, project coordinator with the Bidyanondo Foundation, a local charity. The foundation has been distributing both cooked and dry food to the flood-affected villagers, many of whom have lost their crops and livelihood.
Soikat said that over the last few weeks, the charity has distributed food to some 135,000 people in Kurigram, while the government’s relief office was also providing food, cash and cattle food.
“Over last two days, the situation has deteriorated and many villages went underwater in the district," he said by phone. “I have seen thousands taking shelter.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement Monday that more than a million Bangladeshis have been marooned by the floods, with the worst of it happening since the weekend.
“Thousands of people are expected to leave their homes throughout the beginning of this week to seek shelter in higher ground as the Water Development Board warned that the onrush of water from upstream would further intensify,” the statement said.
A.T.M. Akhteruzzman, a relief and rehabilitation officer in the northern district of Rangpur, said about 50,000 people who live along the Teesta River basin have been marooned.
“Waters are coming from India, while heavy rainfalls in the region are causing havoc,” he said. “We are trying to do our best to stand by the people, as we have already provided more than 300 tons of rice, cattle food, baby food and a good amount of cash. Our relief operations will continue."


Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

Updated 11 August 2020

Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

  • 3,000 personnel face call-up amid warnings country is losing COVID-19 war

MANILA: The Philippines is considering calling up more than 3,000 military medical reservists to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes as a rising number of infections threatens to overwhelm the country’s struggling health care system. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that a list had been drawn up of of 380 doctors and nurses, as well as 3,000 reservists with medical training who can be mobilized to help COVID-19 patients.

In a televised interview, Lorenzana said talks on calling up medical reservists took place at a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last week after warnings of a shortage of medical personnel in Manila.

He said the message from medical groups that staff were overwhelmed and exhausted sent a “distress signal to the nation.”

Hospital staff also warned that the country “is waging a losing battle against COVID-19.”

“We have medical reserves. All we have to do is find out where they are now,” Lorenzana said.

“As of last week we were able to get about 380 doctors and nurses, plus about 3,000 other medical personnel, including medical aides and medical technicians,” he added.

If the plan to mobilize medical reservists is pushed through, the defense department will deploy them to help in Manila and other areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection.

The defense secretary said he is confident many of the reservists will respond once they are called to duty.

Asked if the defense department has a timetable for their deployment, Lorenzana said: “We have to process them, but first we will have to get a go signal from the Department of Budget and Management because we need money to mobilize these people. We have to pay their salary and allowances.

“I have directed the Philippines armed forces to estimate how much we money we need,” he said.

Last week Duterte ordered a strict quarantine to be reimposed in capital and surrounding provinces until Aug. 18.

He said this will give the government time to refine its pandemic strategies and offer a “breather” to exhausted front-line workers.

Under the curfew people will be restricted to essential travel and mass transport will be closed.

As of Monday, the Philippines had recorded 129,913 COVID-19 cases, with 67,673 recoveries and 2,270 deaths.