B'desh flood victims say hopes fading, hunger spreads

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DHAKA, Sep 14 (Reuters) Mother of three Salma Begum and her husband built a hut after floods in July washed away their home in northern Bangladesh.

Within weeks, the family was homeless again, joining millions of others affected by a second wave of monsoon flooding that has swept away homes, crops, roads and bridges across much of the country's north and northeast.

Many victims face hunger, have no jobs or income because their crops have been ruined or businesses disrupted.

''I went back to the village and built a hut in what was once my home. But before I could start living in that, I have been made homeless again,'' said Salma, a farmer's wife who lives in northern Kurigram district.

''Now my family is surviving on hardly one meal a day as relief supplies are poor and there is no work,'' she said.

Villager Abdul Haque in Gangachara, another northern district, told of the anguish of losing another crop.

''Crops replanted after the first flooding have been washed away,'' he said.

''People's hopes are fading as hunger and diseases continued to spread,'' he told a Reuters journalist in the area.

At least 40 people died in the latest deluge in the north and northeast, raising the total death toll to nearly 900 since the low-lying country was hit by the year's first massive flooding in July, according to officials.

Thousands of families driven by the latest floods huddled on highways and embankments, with their cattle and whatever else they could bring along, witnesses said.

Many were still stranded in their flooded villages, living on the roofs or boats.

Despite the hardship, most flood victims praised the country's army-backed interim government for trying to help them.

''The aftermath of the floods would certainly lead to a near famine condition, which probably will be averted as the authorities, NGOs and private agencies are sincerely trying to help victims,'' said an official in nearby Rangpur district.

''But the supplies are inadequate,'' he said, adding that ''there are too many mouths to feed''.

Poverty is a way of life in Bangladesh's remote northern region where people grow just one rice crop for the year and there are only few factories offering jobs.

DISEASE Waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhoea, were spreading again, health officials said today. More than 3,500 people were reported sick over the past 24 hours, including about 400 treated in Dhaka's International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh, doctors said.

The Flood Forecasting and Warning Center in Dhaka said easing rains had improved the situation in the northeast but conditions had deteriorated in some districts north of the capital.

These include Jamalpur, Netrokona and Sirajganj where repeated inundation caused immense suffering to the residents.

Adding to the misery, severe erosion along the banks of the Brahmaputra and Jamuna rivers was forcing hundreds of families out of their homes.

River erosion was also affecting people in Gangachara and neighbouring districts of Chilmari and Gaibandha, local residents said by telephone.

Weather officials said today the forecast was gloomy.

''The Padma, one of the three major rivers in our country, has continued to rise taking the flood situation from bad to worst in central and southern Bangladesh,'' said Saiful Hossain, the executive engineer of the flood warning centre.

Private television N-tv showed people in flood-swept villages leaving in search of work in nearby towns. Some were unable to pay transport fares but promised to pay later, a bus driver said.

The news was not all bad, though. The Bengali-language daily Janakantha reported today that fishermen rescued three tiger cubs from a river in Kurigram, 400 km (240 miles) north of Dhaka.

REUTERS SBC RK1645

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