Bangladeshis struggle to rebuild lives after floods

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KURIGRAM, Bangladesh, Oct 10 (Reuters) Bangladeshis have returned home after one of the worst floods in recent years left a trail of destruction across two-thirds of the low-lying country, but few have time to grieve for the loss of loved ones.

Food, water and healthcare remain scarce for thousands of survivors, many living on small river islands that took the brunt of two waves of monsoon floods.

In some families, only the women are left to pick up the pieces.

''I lost my father and a new-born son weeks after the waters had gone, as I could not manage food and medical help for them,'' said Sajeda Khatun, in Kurigram village, 400 km (250 miles) north of Dhaka.

Her husband, along with most other men in the island, left home to look for work in the city after the first wave of floods destroyed the crops in July.

''Now we the women are left alone to take care of ourselves and our children,'' said Sajeda, mother of three. She also looks after her old mother and in-laws.

''Life is a struggle,'' Sajeda tells a UNICEF team on a field trip to assess the impact of the flood, as her neighbours crowd around her.

The floods killed more than 1,000 people, made millions homeless and caused economic losses around 400 million dollar, according to early estimates.

Sajeda's family moved to the village on the river island, or chars as they are called, three years ago after being displaced by floods. Now the family lives off her husband who often works as a hired labourer, a rickshawpuller or other odd jobs.

UNICEF, which often conducts relief operations in these areas, said it has become a major challenge for the women living in the chars.

''As men left homes, the women are left behind to take full responsibility of their families. It is great challenge,'' said Arifa Sharmin, an UNICEF official.

''With most of the schools still closed after the floods, children have nothing to do except playing in the filthy waters.

Skin and other water borne diseases are common problems,'' said Sharmin.

Despite the difficulties, people on the chars said the government relief assistance was an improvement on previous years.

''We received food, drinking water and other relief supplies from the government, NGOs and charities. They were distributed properly under the supervision of the army,'' said Isa Banu, another island woman.

Troops controlled relief operations across the country, to ensure that supplies were not squandered or misused, which were previously blamed on local politicians and pressure groups.

''Not that we got enough, but at least we didn't have to worry it would be grabbed by others,'' Banu said.

Bangladesh is under a state of emergency since January when an army-backed interim administration took office, vowing to fight corruption in the impoverished nation.

REUTERS PB PM1530

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