Food riots, anger as floods swamp South Asia

LUCKNOW, India Fri Aug 22, 2008 6:35pm IST

People use rickshaws to cross flooded areas after heavy rain in Guwahati, August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah/Files

People use rickshaws to cross flooded areas after heavy rain in Guwahati, August 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Utpal Baruah/Files

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LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Flood victims demanding food and shelter beat up government officials in India on Friday as monsoon rains spread misery among millions of people across South Asia and forced thousands from their homes.

Rising rivers have crumpled embankments, swamped farmlands and destroyed homes, killing almost 1,000 people since the monsoon rains began in June.

In India's eastern Bihar state, hungry villagers rioted for food, chasing and beating up officials and local politicians with iron rods. They damaged government vehicles.

"We do not understand their anger because the government is rushing relief and doing everything to save them," said R.K. Singh, a senior government official in Patna, the state capital.

Most deaths have been reported in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 170 million people.

Indian officials on Friday reported 50 more deaths, raising the toll there to 710 this season.

Monsoon rains have killed at least another 130 people in other parts of India this year, while Nepal has reported some 65 deaths and Bangladesh another 30 so far.

The monsoon is key to irrigating farmland in South Asia and driving economic growth in a region heavily reliant on agriculture. But it leaves massive destruction in its wake, killing hundreds of people every year.

RESCUE BY BOAT

Officials in Uttar Pradesh have moved more than 10,000 people into temporary shelters after their houses were destroyed in floods.

Rescue workers used boats to ferry food packets, medicines and clothes to those marooned, Balwinder Kumar, a senior government official said on Friday. More than 7,000 flood victims were being treated for water-borne diseases.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, more than 300,000 people have fled their homes and thousands have been marooned as heavy rains over the past week triggered fresh floods in southeastern Cox's Bazar district, officials said.

Several overflowing rivers in Cox's Bazar and nearby hill districts have flooded roads and damaged crops.

In Nepal, 40,000 flood victims were housed in relief camps.

"We have collected enough food grains to feed them for two weeks but need tents, medical kits and other relief materials urgently," said government official Suman Ghimire.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Gopal Sharma in

Kathmandu)

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