Unprecedented floods leave trail of destruction in northeast India

Special Unprecedented floods leave trail of destruction in northeast India
A woman looks out from her flooded home, following heavy rainfall, Kampur, Assam, India, June 17, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2022

Unprecedented floods leave trail of destruction in northeast India

Unprecedented floods leave trail of destruction in northeast India
  • Heavy monsoon rain has brought worst flooding in decades to Assam state
  • At least 43 people killed, 5 million people trapped by rising floodwaters

NEW DELHI: Unprecedented flooding in northeast India has left a trail of destruction, with villages submerged, crops destroyed and dozens killed by landslides or rising floodwaters, authorities said on Tuesday.

Up to 5 million people are believed to be marooned after heavy monsoon rain brought the worst floods in decades to Assam.

Authorities said that 33 of the state’s 35 districts have been inundated, and at least 43 people killed by floods and landslides in the past week.

Entire settlements across the state have been engulfed by rising floodwaters and agricultural fields turned into swamps of mud.

“A large number of the population, at least 5 million people are affected,” Gyanendra Dev Tripathi, CEO of Assam State Disaster Management, told Arab News.

“This year, the rain has been at least 400 percent more.”

At least 2,000 roads in the state have been damaged. The Barak Valley area in the southern part of Assam, which consists of Cachar, Helaknadi and Karimganj districts, has been completely cut off from road and communication networks.

“It’s a challenging situation,” Tripathi said. “Roads are opening and then getting closed due to landslides.”

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly frequent in South Asia, raising fears that climate change could lead to even more serious disasters in the near future.

Normally the monsoon brings heavy rainfall to the region between June and October, often triggering floods, especially in low-lying areas, such as Assam, where rivers swollen with water pouring off the Himalayas burst their banks.

But this year, heavy rains began a month earlier.

“The first spell of rain was from May 11 to 19, but the rainfall was 400 to 500 millimeters for three days. That time it was also flooded. The second spell started on June 11. Initially it was 300 or 400 millimeters, but on June 15 and 16, that is for two days, we got 1,000 millimeters of rain in 24 hours,” R.K. Jenamani from the Indian Meteorological Department told Arab News.

“Earlier, the heavy rainfall would happen in the neighboring states and Assam would be affected, but this time the rainfall itself was Assam.”

Rahul Chakraborty, a journalist in Cachar, one of the most affected regions, told Arab News over the phone that the situation was “very grim,” with worsening food shortages.

“People here say that they have never seen this kind of rain in the region,” he said. “The whole Barak Valley is cut off from the mainstream and people are marooned at home. The government has promised to drop food packets, but it has still not started.”

Isfaqul Hussain, a social worker involved in relief efforts in southern Assam, said that some areas remain inaccessible and it is impossible to bring aid.

“This is really unprecedented rain. I have never seen this kind of rain in my life,” he said.

“People are facing difficulty in getting drinking water. In some areas in Lower Assam, people are stuck in their houses and many  have lost everything. They are struggling to survive.”


US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
Updated 8 sec ago

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
  • Officials: Al-Qaeda leader’s presence in Afghanistan eroded confidence that $3.5bn would not fund terror
  • UN warns 6.6m Afghans face famine this winter without urgent humanitarian intervention

LONDON: Billions of dollars being held by the US will not be transferred to Afghanistan after Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul on July 31.

Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan meant Washington does not have “confidence” that the country’s central bank “has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly,” said Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan.

“Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”

The US has held around $3.5 billion intended for Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country last year.

Afghanistan’s economy has struggled since the withdrawal of coalition forces in August 2021, with officials negotiating with US representatives for ways to alleviate the situation.

But West said the US does not see returning funds to the country as a “near-term option” as the Taliban cannot provide guarantees that the money will not be used to fund terrorism.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price, though, said Washington would find alternative, humanitarian uses for the funds to help ease the suffering of ordinary Afghans. 

“The idea that we have decided not to use these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people is simply wrong. It is not true,” he added.

“Right now we’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere.”

US President Joe Biden in February ordered that $7 billion being held by the US for Afghanistan be split between humanitarian aid for the country, and 9/11 victims and their families.

Al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, was killed last month in a drone strike while standing on the balcony of a house in which he was living in the center of Kabul.

His presence in Afghanistan was a “gross violation” of an agreement struck with Washington for the Taliban not to permit terrorist organizations to operate in the country, the US said.

A UN Security Council report earlier this year said the Taliban takeover had allowed “greater freedom” for foreign fighters to live and operate in the country.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator and deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said the country faces “pure catastrophe” due to its precarious economic state, with 6.6 million people threatened with famine this winter and 24 million in need of humanitarian aid.

He added that poverty is forcing Afghans to make desperate decisions such as “the selling of organs, and the selling of children,” and that despite many spending as much as 90 percent of their income on food, he was still seeing evidence of severely malnourished children nationwide.

Erin Sikorsky, director at the US-based Center for Climate and Security, told the Daily Telegraph: “Poor governance by the Taliban will make things worse. It is likely Afghanistan will see more internally displaced people going forward, as disruptions to ... agriculture intersect with other security risks.”

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Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings
Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings
  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project
Updated 17 August 2022

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

DUBAI: Lesotho has inaugurated a $11.2 million water supply project that will supply clean water to five cities in the south African country.

Funded by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the project aims to sustain water resources and provide clean water sources in Lesotho as well as mitigate effects of drought in the country to ensure water and food security.

The undertaking will see the laying of a 210-kilometer-long pipe network and the construction of 25 pumping stations.

Saudi Arabia, through the SFD, supports developing countries achieve their development goals by providing grants, technical aid as well soft loans and since its inception in 1975 has provided 730 development loans to finance 692 development projects and programs in 84 developing countries.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.