Officials try to bring aid to flooded villages in South Asia

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DHAKA, Bangladesh – Authorities in India and Bangladesh struggled on Monday to provide food and clean water to hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes during days of floods that submerged large swaths of the country.

Floods triggered by monsoon rains have killed more than a dozen people, stranded millions and inundated millions of homes.

In Sylhet, in northeast Bangladesh, along the Surma River, villagers waded through knee-deep flooded streets. A man stood in the doorway of his flooded store, where the top shelves were filled with items in an effort to keep them out of the water. Local television said millions of people remained without power.

Enamur Rahman, assistant minister for disasters and relief, said up to 100,000 people had been evacuated from the worst affected districts, including Sylhet. About 4 million people are left behind, United News of Bangladesh said.

Floods have also ravaged the northeast Indian state of Assam, where two police officers involved in rescue operations were swept away by floodwaters on Sunday, state officials said. They said about 200,000 people were taking refuge in 700 relief camps. The water in all major rivers in the state was above danger levels.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Monday that his administration was using military helicopters to airlift food and fuel to the worst affected parts of the state.

Assam has already been reeling from massive flooding after torrential rains in recent weeks caused the Brahmaputra River to burst, leaving millions of homes under water and cutting transport links.

The Brahmaputra flows from Tibet through India and Bangladesh, with a journey of nearly 800 kilometers (500 miles) through Assam.

Major roads in the affected areas of Bangladesh have been submerged, leaving people stranded. In a country with a history of climate change-induced disasters, many have expressed frustration that authorities have not done more locally.

“There is not much to say about the situation. You can see the water with your own eyes. The water level inside the room has dropped a bit. It used to go up to my waist,” said Muhit Ahmed, owner of a grocery store in Sylhet.

Bangladesh called in troops on Friday to help evacuate people, but Ahmed said he hadn’t seen any yet.

“We are in a big disaster. Neither the Sylhet City Corporation nor anyone else came here to inquire about us,” he said. “I try to save my stuff as much as possible. We don’t have the capacity to do more now.

The National Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said on Sunday that floods in the northeastern districts of Sunamganj and Sylhet could worsen. He said the Teesta, a major river in northern Bangladesh, could rise above danger levels. The situation could also deteriorate in other northern districts, he added.

Officials said floodwaters have started to recede in the northeast but pose a threat to the central region, where water flows south to the Bay of Bengal.

According to the media, villagers in remote areas are struggling to get drinking water and food.

BRAC, a private non-profit group, opened a center on Monday to prepare food as part of plans to feed 5,000 families in an affected district, but arrangements were inadequate, senior manager Arinjoy Dhar said. In a video posted online, Dhar asked for help to provide food to those affected by the floods.

Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood triggered by water upstream in the northeastern states of India hit the northern and northeastern parts of Bangladesh, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads.

Bangladesh is mostly flat and low lying, so short-term flooding during the monsoon season is common and often beneficial to agriculture. But devastating floods hit the country every few years, damaging its infrastructure and economy. According to the World Bank, nearly 28% of the country’s 160 million people live in coastal regions.

One of the worst floods occurred in 1988, when much of the country was under water. In 1998, another devastating flood inundated almost 75% of the country. In 2004, more prolonged floods occurred.

Scientists say the floods in Bangladesh have been made worse by climate change. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, around 17% of the population will need to be displaced over the next decade if global warming persists at the current rate.

Hussain reported from Gauhati, India. Associated Press writer Al-Emrun Garjon in Sylhet, Bangladesh contributed to this report.