Millions still marooned as floods recede in northeast Bangladesh

Millions still marooned as floods recede in northeast Bangladesh
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The floods had hit some 70 percent of Bangladesh’s Sylhet district, above, and about 60 percent of neighboring Sunamganj. (AFP)
Millions still marooned as floods recede in northeast Bangladesh
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Floodwater breached a major embankment in Bangladesh’s Sylhet region, above, affecting around two million people. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2022

Millions still marooned as floods recede in northeast Bangladesh

Millions still marooned as floods recede in northeast Bangladesh
  • Flooding is worst the region has seen in almost 2 decades
  • Authorities bracing for more flash foods this year

DHAKA: Millions of people in Bangladesh have been marooned by the worst floods to hit the country’s northeast in almost two decades, officials said on Sunday, with rescue efforts ongoing as waters begin to recede.

After heavy rain in neighboring India in the past week, flash floods hit Bangladesh’s Sylhet district, causing rivers to swell and swamping dozens of villages.

At least four people in Sylhet were killed in the floods, according to data from the local health department.

“More than 1.2 million people were affected only in Sylhet district,” Mohammad Nurul Islam, Sylhet’s relief and rehabilitation officer, told Arab News. “At the moment our first and foremost concern is to save the people’s lives with necessary shelter and food.”

Authorities have opened hundreds of shelters in affected areas. Thousands of people are taking refuge in the shelters while others have stayed with relatives. Officials said that the situation is slowly improving.

“The overall flood situation in Sylhet region is getting better slowly since the heavy rainfall stopped pouring,” Arifur Rahman, executive engineer of the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, told Arab News. “This is the worst flood in Sylhet region since 2004.

“The monsoon is about to begin and I fear this region will experience several more incidents of flash floods this year,” Rahman said.

Shelters should be kept ready for future incidents, he added, and authorities should work on strengthening embankments in the region.

Though many parts of low-lying Bangladesh are prone to flooding and the region itself is used to such incidents, an official from neighboring Sunamganj district, where about 300,000 residents were also hit by the floods, said that the deluge has lasted longer this year.

“Usually flash floods don’t stay too long. But this year people are suffering more as the flood water stayed for a longer period,” Sunamganj's relief and rehabilitation officer Mohammad Shafikul Islam told Arab News.

Some residents in Sylhet district said that their homes were still submerged in knee-high water on Sunday.

“I have been marooned with flood water for the last seven days. Although the water started receding, today my house is still flooded with knee-high water,” Rajat Kanti Gupta, 49, told Arab News.

Deb Jotyi Das, 39, whose house is in a similar situation, recalled the 2004 floods and said that it “was not so devastating like this year.”

Das told Arab News: “I am really afraid of the situation. I fear the residents of Sylhet will witness five to six more flood incidents this year.

“How can we bear the brunt of so many floods in a single year?”


UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children
Updated 6 sec ago

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children

UN urges European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children
  • The UN presented a set of safe and humane alternatives to child detention

LONDON: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) urged European countries to stop detaining migrant and refugee children on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The UN organizations presented a set of safe and humane alternatives to child detention, calling on 38 countries in the European region to implement them.

These alternatives include supported independent living, living with family hosts and other child-friendly models that offer cost-effective solutions.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, and the Special Coordinator for Refugee Response in Europe, stated that the detention of children is a violation of their human rights regardless of their country of origin and reasons for leaving.

Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for Europe, has called for increased national data collection and monitoring capabilities in Europe so that countries can better receive and protect migrant children.


Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse
Updated 30 min 59 sec ago

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse

Five Italian climbers still missing after glacier collapse
  • At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada
  • Toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days

CANAZEI, Italy: Five Italian climbers were still missing more than 48 hours after the deadly collapse of part of a mountain glacier in the Alps, a tragedy that is being blamed on rising temperatures.
At least seven people are known to have been killed in the avalanche on Sunday on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters (10,830 feet) is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.
That toll could rise given that five people remain unaccounted for despite searches with helicopters and drones over the past two days.
“When we arrived we saw a disaster, we realized the dimensions of this enormous avalanche,” said Stefano Coter, head of the local alpine rescue team and one of the first people to reach the scene.
“We found injured people in need of help and other people who were dead,” he added.
Much of Italy has been baking in an early-summer heatwave and scientists said climate change was making previously stable glaciers more unpredictable.
Maurizio Fugatti, president of the Trento region, confirmed the death toll and the numbers missing at a news conference on Tuesday evening.
With the peak still unstable, rescuers have been using drones and helicopters to look for victims or try to locate them through their mobile phone signals. The teams found human remains or climbing gear at three or four sites on Tuesday.
Rescue coordinators said a layer of dust and debris was limiting the effectiveness of drone searches and they hoped to send a team of experts and search dogs to the lower part of the site on Thursday when the weather is forecast to be clearer.
The Marmolada will remain closed to tourists for the time being to allow rescue teams to operate, Giovanni Bernard, the mayor in the local town of Canazei, said earlier on Tuesday.
Hikers in the area said they were in any case frightened and would try to stick to safer routes.
“Right now after what happened I feel a bit scared because two days ago we were about to walk just near the glacier. It could have happened to us,” said Mikael Bouchard, a 29-year-old from Lyon.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy
Updated 05 July 2022

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy
  • Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week

WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.


Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
Updated 05 July 2022

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
  • Malaysia is one of 5 countries included in scheme
  • More than 14,300 pilgrims from the country will perform Hajj this year

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysian pilgrims arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the flight to Saudi Arabia, they are welcomed by Saudi officials who are helping tens of thousands of people depart for Hajj.
The welcome is a pre-departure glimpse into Saudi hospitality.
Malaysia is among five Muslim majority countries — including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco — where Saudi Arabia opened its Makkah Route initiative.
The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter the Kingdom without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.
Those departing from Kuala Lumpur airport are taken care of by dozens of Saudi immigration officials working round the clock to facilitate their journey.
“We are not even in Saudi yet, but I can already feel the warmth. This is very welcoming,” Ariff Abdullah, who departed on one of the last Hajj flights this week, told Arab News, as he and his wife were getting ready to board their Jeddah-bound flight.
“Today I was joking with the chap at the immigration counter,” Abdullah said. “He even knew a couple of Malay words!”
This year, 14,306 Malaysian pilgrims will take part in Hajj. The number is half the quota Malaysia received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the total number of pilgrims who will arrive in the Kingdom this year has also been halved.
Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020, and limited to only 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 curbs have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
Makkah Route officials are helping to streamline their arrival.


“The initiative aims to facilitate the pilgrims’ immigration process at their country of origin, including fingerprinting and finalizing the entry (to Saudi Arabia), and delivery of luggage to their chosen accommodations in a very short time,” Sgt. Maj. Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah to assist Malaysian pilgrims, told Arab News.
His colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, is “honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia.”
She said: “I am very glad to be part of this initiative, especially since it’s my first time in Malaysia.”
Combined with other procedures under the Makkah Route, the immigration process from both the Malaysian and Saudi sides takes an average of 10 minutes per pilgrim.
To those who require more assistance, including people with disabilities, the scheme is a welcome relief.
“When we reach Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” said Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister.
When they reach the Kingdom, pilgrims are received at the airport and taken to their hotels in Makkah and Madinah. They can focus on their spiritual journeys, as all practical aspects of the pilgrimage are taken care of.
“The Makkah Route is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “There’s no need to go through hassle — I love it.”


Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines
Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines
  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.