The monsoon flooding claimed 55 more lives in less than 24 hours raising fears of an epidemic as floodwaters continued to recede from northern and central regions at a slow rate, but spread to southern districts yesterday.
Diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases ravaged the northern and central regions as official death toll soared to 544, underlining the need for intensified efforts to take medical care to the submerged villages.
Disaster Management Ministry said most of this year's flood deaths occurred in Narsingdi, Kishoreganj and Sirajganj districts in the last three weeks, caused mostly by diarrhoea, snakebites, house collapses and drowning.
At least three people were killed and more than 700 square kilometres in southern Barisal district went under water yesterday in the flooding, the worst since 1998 when over 700 people were killed.
About 5,000 shelters across northern and central regions were still crowded with homeless flood victims.
Officials said the flooding which hit on July 10 had inundated 40 of 64 districts, including two-thirds of the capital Dhaka, affected some 2.96 crore people and cost about Tk 4,000 crore in lost property.
Health officials yesterday said more than 47,000 people contracted diarrhoea in 36 districts and 31 of them died from the disease. Unofficial sources put the figure as high as a few lakh.
Hospitals and temporary medical centers in flood-ravaged districts said they had treated more than 100,000 patients over the last three weeks, but most deaths took place in remote areas that remained cut off by road and rail.
Doctors at International Centre for Diarrhoea Diseases Research, Bangladesh said they had treated about 10,000 patients in the past week and on an average about 500 new patients were being admitted every day.
"With the recession of floods we are expecting more patients," said Shahadat Hossain, a doctor at the centre.
According to health ministry officials, the highest 814 cases of diarrhoea were recorded in Dhaka alone on Friday as massive outbreak was reported in central Manikganj, Brahmanbaria and Comilla in the past 24 hours.
Health experts said the outbreaks were usual consequence of recession of floodwaters from floodplains.
Health ministry officials said 3,296 government medical teams were working in the affected areas and a number of non-governmental organisations also extended support.
Acute shortage of safe water and food was a major obstacle in combating the diseases, local residents said, adding prices of water purification tablets and oral saline went up in many places including the capital city.
Drug stores are blaming the price hike on supply shortage and huge precautionary stock by people.
The capital at the heart of the country appeared to be one of the worst affected areas with prolonged stagnation of water filled with garbage, human excreta, dead poultry and rodents.
"Never before had I seen such a devastation, especially in terms of scarcity of drinking water and dry food," said Ferdousi Begum in Bashabo, which is under filthy, waist-deep water.
"I found it impossible to live there. So I fled the area with my only son."
Zamirul Haq, another Dhaka resident, said life had become a constant struggle.
"The stink and filth have made breathing difficult," Haq said, adding, "Only Allah knows when he would relieve us from this."
In Dhaka, makeshift shelters are overflowing with people, rife with hunger and disease.
Officials said the flood situation was likely to improve across Bangladesh over the next one week before another spell of heavy rain is forecast to lash.
The government is working with international aid agencies to distribute aid and coordinate post-flood rehabilitation.
Some victims said they wait almost an entire day, often standing in filthy flood waters, hoping to grab their share of meagre foodgrains and money offered by government officials and private agencies.
Many go back disappointed as supplies run out quickly.
"I am in the shelter for a week now but have received nothing," said 60-year-old Amiran Bibi. "I don't need rice or money. Please give me some dry or cooked food and some water for survival. Never in my life had I suffered so much."
Meanwhile, train service between Dhaka and eight districts restored with the recession of floodwater from railway tracks, but some routes still remained snapped.
Rail communication between Dhaka and Chittagong, Sylhet, Noakhali, Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Rajshahi, Khulna and Lalmonirhat began on schedule.
The Relief Control Centre yesterday said the government distributed 39,645 tonnes of rice, Tk 3.83 crore in cash, Tk 59 lakh in house-building grant, 3,409 bundles of corrugated iron sheets and other relief materials among the flood-hit people until Friday.
A bulletin of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) said of 86 monitoring stations, eight showed rise and 62 fall and the rivers at 18 points were flowing above danger level in the morning.
The Brahmaputra-Jamuna showed further fall by 13cm at Noonkhawa, 5cm at Chilmari, 12cm at Bahadurabad, 15cm at Sirajganj and 14cm at Aricha and was flowing below danger levels.
The Dharla recorded further fall by 13cm at Kurigram. The Teesta rose by 6cm at Dalia and the Ghagot at Gaibandha recorded further fall by 15cm.
The Old Brahmaputra marked further fall by 25cm at Jamalpur and 20cm at Mymensingh. The Buriganga showed a 10cm fall at Dhaka, flowing above danger level by 45cm. The Balu recorded fall by 3cm at Demra and was flowing above danger level by 183cm.
The Lakhya at Narayanganj observed further fall by 9cm and was flowing above danger level by 97cm. The Turag registered fall by 9cm at Mirpur and was flowing above danger level by 125 cm. The Tongi Khal at Tongi receded by 6cm and was flowing above danger level by 93cm.
The Kaliganga at Taraghat registered further fall by 12cm and was flowing above danger level by 78cm. The Dhaleswari receded by 20cm at Jagir and was flowing above danger level by 55cm.
The Ganges-Padma recorded further fall by 7cm at Pankha, 13cm at Rajshahi, 9cm at Hardinge Bridge, 18cm at Goalundo and 15cm at Bhagyakul and was flowing above danger level by 37cm at Goalundo and 69cm at Bhagyakul.
The Surma registered further fall by 9cm at Kanaighat, 8cm at Sylhet and by 3cm at Sunamganj and was flowing above danger level by 87cm at Kanaighat and 38cm at Sunamganj.
The Kushiyara recorded further fall by 7cm both at Amalshid and Sherpur and 8cm at Sheola. The river was flowing above danger level by 100cm at Amalshid, 50cm at Sheola and by 35cm at Sherpur.
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