India wildlife reserve park devastated by monsoon floods

An Indian woman paddles a raft through floodwaters in Morigoan district, in India’s northeastern state of Assam, on August 17, 2017. At least 221 people have died and more than 1.5 million have been displaced by monsoon flooding across India, Nepal and Bangladesh, officials said August 15, as rescuers scoured submerged villages for the missing. (AFP)
Updated 19 August 2017
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India wildlife reserve park devastated by monsoon floods

GUAHATI, India: Rising floodwaters have inundated large parts of a famous wildlife reserve park in northeastern India, killing more than 225 animals and forcing hundreds of other animals to flee, the park director said Saturday.
Around 15 rhinos, 185 deer and at least one Royal Bengal tiger have died in the devastating floods that have submerged almost the entire Kaziranga National Park in Assam state, Satyendra Singh said.
“Carcasses of animals were seen floating in the floodwaters. It’s a heartbreaking scene,” Singh said.
Meanwhile, across northern India and neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh, the death toll from drowning, collapsed houses and landslides triggered by annual monsoon rains climbed to around 578 on Saturday.
Army soldiers and disaster management workers in the three countries have launched mammoth rescue efforts to evacuate and provide food and shelter to the nearly 16 million people affected by the floods in South Asia.
In the northern Indian state of Bihar, at least 153 people died as swirling floodwaters submerged hundreds of villages and swept away homes made of mud and straw.
Eleven million people have been affected by the floods in 17 districts of the state, said Pratay Amrit, an official in Bihar’s disaster management department. Nearly half a million people were in more than 1,300 state-run relief camps, where they were being provided rice and lentils and medical care, he said.
In neighboring Uttar Pradesh state, the death toll rose to 40 as floodwaters submerged entire villages after 13 small dams were washed away, state officials said.
The Rohini, Gandak and Rapti rivers were flowing above the danger mark and could breach their banks, adding to the sense of urgency in evacuating people from low-lying villages, said Avnish Awasthi, a government spokesman.
The flood situation worsened after water was released from swollen rivers in Nepal that threatened to overflow, Awasthi said.
Soldiers used motorboats to rescue people marooned on rooftops while air force helicopters dropped packets of food and drinking water to those trapped in their homes.
Officials said 144 people were swept away or drowned in Assam while 60 others were killed in West Bengal state.
At Kaziranga, nearly 80 percent of the 430-square-kilometer (250-square-mile) wildlife park was under water. Some of the animals had crossed a highway and moved to higher land. The Assam government has deployed security guards on the highway to protect the rhinos from poachers, said Singh, the park director.
In Nepal, floods have killed around 110 people since the monsoon rains began in June. However, the floodwaters were receding and no new casualties have been recorded, officials said.
In Bangladesh, more than 70 people have died over the past week due to drowning or snake bites this monsoon season.
The government’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said Saturday that the flood situation was expected to continue to improve over the next few days.
Many flood protection embankments and dikes have collapsed because of the force of the floodwaters across the impoverished northern region of Bangladesh, a delta nation of 160 million people that’s crisscrossed by more than 130 rivers.


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Updated 53 min 29 sec ago
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Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

  • Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
  • This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

MANILA: On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.