DHAKA, BANGLADESH -- The worst flooding in 40 years has claimed more than 375 lives, marooned more than 20 million people and destroyed millions of acres of crop land, officials said this week.
Unofficial estimates put these figures much higher, and reports of deaths from starvation, diarrheal diseases, snakebites and drowning have been pouring in to the capital city daily since the deluge began early last month.
Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Nazrul Islam announced that Bangladesh has stopped transferring diplomats abroad as one of several measures aimed at cutting costs and diverting savings to a relief fund, Reuter reported.
The floods have damaged crops on more than 5.5 million acres and destroyed more than 1.3 million dwellings. More than 20,000 head of cattle have been washed away by the devastating floods.
At least 15 percent of the country's 103 million people live less than nine feet above sea level. Floods are becoming more frequent and more devastating over the years. The deforestation of the Himalayas has increased erosion, with silt accumulating on the beds of the rivers entering Bangladesh.
Floods have wrought havoc in at least 47 out of 65 districts stretching over one-third of the country.
There are reports of scarcity of grains, baby food, fuel and kerosene in outlying districts. There also are shortages of essential drugs and drinking water.
President Hussein Mohammed Ershad has said the floods have caused the loss of nearly 1.5 million tons of grain and has appealed for help from other countries and world organizations.
The country suffered major floods in 1974 and also in 1984. The failure to tackle the crisis that followed the 1974 floods resulted in famine and killed thousands of people.
Relief Minister Abdul Mannan has sought assistance from Moslem countries. Iraq has responded favorably so far and lent five helicopters for relief operations.
Bangladesh has neither the trained manpower nor the logistic support to handle disasters of such magnitude. Air Force transports have been pressed into service along with boats from the Army. Army personnel are already helping the civil administration in rescue and relief operations.
With the current foreign exchange reserve at $600 million, the highest since 1972, Bangladesh will be able to make cash purchases of rice.
The United States has recently agreed to provide an additional $5 million in food aid for the purchase of 30,000 tons of rice.
Meanwhile, road and rail link to some of the major districts remain cut off from the rest of the country despite receding flood waters. All the major rivers are still flowing above danger levels.