GUWAHATI/DHAKA • Intense rain and floods in the Indian state of Assam have killed at least 84 people and displaced more than 2.75 million since May, the authorities said yesterday, as they tried to collect the bodies of nine rare rhinos drowned in the past 10 days.
Rescue teams were facing a double challenge of rising flood waters amid the coronavirus pandemic as villagers driven from their homes huddled in shelters.
“It’s hard to enforce social distancing when people are being ordered to move away from the rising waters,” said Mr Sanghamitra Sanyal, a member of the north-eastern state’s flood management force. “We’re urging people to at least cover their mouth and nose with a piece of clean cloth.”
Officials warned that the water level in the Brahmaputra River was expected to rise by 11cm two weeks after it burst its banks, swamping more than 2,500 villages.
Assam, famous for its tea plantations, is hit by flooding every rainy season despite flood-control efforts.
Rights groups accuse corrupt officials of siphoning off funds meant for flood projects, resulting in shoddy construction of embankments that are often breached.
Floods have also inundated Kaziranga National Park, home to the world’s largest concentration of one-horned rhinoceroses, with an estimated 2,500 out of a total population of some 3,000 of the animals.
“Nine rhinos have drowned and over 100 other animals have been killed,” Mr Atul Bora, Assam’s agriculture minister and Kaziranga’s member of the state Parliament, said.
With the park waist-deep in water, rhinos, elephants and deer have been forced to seek refuge on roads and in human settlements.
Across South Asia, torrential rainfall during the monsoon season between June and September typically triggers floods, landslides and lightning strikes, with hundreds of people dying every year.
In Bangladesh and Nepal, officials also warned that rising waters would bring further flooding.
Bangladeshi officials said at least 67 people had died and another 2.6 million had been affected by swollen rivers bursting their banks and inundating villages over the past two weeks.
Rivers were rising in the country’s north after a fresh deluge of rainfall, the country’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre said.
A third of Bangladesh is under water, and the authorities have warned that up to 40 per cent of the flood-prone nation could be inundated.
In Nepal, 79 people have died and 46 are missing after floods and landslides, with the government warning of rising river levels over the next three days.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE