PATNA, India – An eastern Indian state declared a bitter monthlong cold spell a "national calamity" on Friday as the death toll from freezing temperatures in South Asia rose to more than 1,830, most in India.
The cold killed 23 people in Bangladesh, 12 in India and nine in Nepal overnight. Most were elderly and children without enough warm clothing, blankets, shelter or heating.
No deaths from cold have been reported in Pakistan, but three days of heavy fog have disrupted flights from Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
Officials and newspaper reports said 1,005 have died in India since the bitterly cold weather and icy Himalayan winds began in mid-December.
Winters are normally short and mild in heavily populated South Asia and millions live in shacks or mud-and-thatch houses without heat or electricity. Millions more have no homes and sleep outdoors.
Governments have built night shelters for the homeless, but they cannot accommodate all those exposed to freezing conditions.
India's eastern Bihar state declared "a national calamity" and began distributing 2 million blankets and wood worth $6.25 million to hundreds of thousands of homeless people, said Navin Verma, the state relief and rehabilitation commissioner
Temperatures dipped to 38 degrees Fahrenheit in Bangladesh's northwestern Rajshahi district Thursday night — the coldest in 35 years, according to the weather office in the capital, Dhaka.
"I can't even touch water. It's cold like ice," said Shahina Khatoon, a 55-year-old housemaid in Dhaka.
Bihar state's declaration of a national calamity will enable Bihar state to seek financial help from the federal government. However, there is widespread corruption in Indian aid programs, with officials often pocketing the money or keeping aid goods. Bihar is one of India's poorest states and has a reputation for lawlessness.
The Bihar state government closed schools and colleges indefinitely as 12 more deaths were reported overnight in Nalanda, Aurangabad and Jehanabad districts, taking the state's official death toll to 128, Verma said.
Local newspapers have reported some 570 deaths and accused officials of understating the number. Some officials, on condition of anonymity, also have said the toll is much higher than the official figure.
Thursday's low in Bihar was 41 degrees Fahrenheit at Gaya, 75 miles northwest of the state capital, Patna.
Dense fog delayed flights and trains by up to six hours and traffic crawled on the highways in the state. Temperatures were expected to rise this weekend, said R.K. Mukhopadyay, director of the state meteorological department.