NEW DELHI – Authorities rushed food, drinking water and medicine to India's flood-hit areas on Friday to ward off epidemics, as thousands of people returned to their damaged homes and the death toll in South Asia reached at least 575 people.
Torrential rains have stranded some 19 million in the past two weeks across much of northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal, flooding rivers and submerging villages and farmland, officials said. Since the monsoon started in June, more than 1,550 people have died in India alone, the Indian Home Ministry said.
A reprieve in the monsoon rains created ponds of stagnant water that could breed diseases in thousands of flood-hit villages in India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states.
Doctors have treated more than 1,500 people for diarrhea caused by contaminated drinking water in 22 flood-hit districts in the past 10 days, said L.B. Prasad, director-general of government health services in Uttar Pradesh state.
Authorities have set up 2,000 medical camps in the districts, he said.
However, the Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association, a private group, put the number of people suffering from waterborne diseases in the state at around 20,000.
"Paramedics visiting affected villages don't have adequate supplies of medicines," said Ramakant Rai, chief of the association. He said there also was an acute shortage of clean drinking water.
Flood waters hit 2,546 villages with a population of 1.9 million in Uttar Pradesh state in the past two weeks, the Home Ministry statement said Friday. Nearly 163,000 people were living in 250 state-run relief camps, it added.
On Friday, the Bihar state government canceled vacations for doctors to counter the threat of epidemics in the flood-ravaged 19 districts, said state Health Minister Chandramohan Rai.
Commercial banks temporarily suspended recovery of loans from people in flood-hit districts of the state, he said.
More than 6,500 villages with a population of 14 million people have been affected by monsoon floods in Bihar state, the Home Ministry statement said. Nearly 80,000 people have moved to state-run 846 relief camps on higher ground.
Nine more bodies were recovered in India's Uttar Pradesh state, state relief commissioner Umesh Sinha said Friday. Nearly 2,300 villages remained water-logged, he added.
The causes of the deaths ranged from electrocution and house collapses to snake bites and boat capsizing.
International aid agencies have warned that the stagnant waters left by the floods are a lethal breeding ground for germs causing diarrhea, waterborne diseases and various skin diseases.
In Bangladesh, there were 1,400 reported cases of diarrhea this week, said Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the Word Health Organization.
The World Food Program and UNICEF have been distributing emergency food supplies to thousands of people in Bangladesh and Nepal, WFP spokesman Simon Pluess said in Geneva.
More than 21,500 families, or around 127,000 people, have been displaced by floods and landslides in Nepal, while at least 26,500 houses have been damaged or destroyed, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society.