Scores die in Bangladesh and Burma floods

More than 70 people have been killed in Bangladesh and Burma after heavy flooding destroyed roads and submerged towns and villages.

In the Teknaf area of Bangladesh’s western Cox’s Bazaar, up to 54 people are confirmed dead, while in Burma’s eastern Arakan state, which borders Bangladesh, at least 30 are rumoured to have been killed.

Heavy rains began in the mountainous border region on Monday evening, but have now reportedly eased. In the worst-affected areas of Teknaf, home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution in Arakan state, 25 have been killed, AFP reported.

Arjun Jain, the UN’s protection officer in Bangladesh, refuted reports that the refugees were among those who had been killed. “No deaths or serious injuries have been reported in the official UN camps, and to the best of our knowledge there are no casualties in the makeshift camps,” he told DVB, adding that further assessments are being done.

Chris Lewa, from the Arakan Project, who spoke to DVB on the phone from Dhaka, said that across the border in Arakan state’s Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, “water is chest-deep and mud and bamboo huts have been completely destroyed.”

“We’ve heard that 19 people were killed in Buthidong and 11 in Maungdaw. Buthidaung market has been destroyed and the [17-kilometer] road connecting the two towns has collapsed.” She added that a tunnel along that road has also collapsed, and Burmese authorities had reportedly forcibly recruited some 200 civilians to clear the debris.

The Burmese government’s meteorological department announced that 34 inches of rain has fallen in Maungdaw.

Telephone communication with villages outside of the towns is down, and Lewa warned that “many deaths” may have occurred in the outlying areas that hadn’t been documented. Houses are reportedly washed out in one of the larger Arakan villages, Kyein Chaung, and the controversial border fence between Bangladesh and Burma has been damaged.

In Teknaf, where the majority of the estimated 300,000 Rohingya refugees are based, damage is significant. “All the roads are underwater. We can’t reach areas where thousands of people are trapped by the floods,” local official A.N.M Nazim Uddin told AFP. Around 15,000 people in Teknaf are believed to have been affected by floods and landslides.

Both Teknaf and Maungdaw lie either side of the Naf river, which opens into a wide estuary when it meets the Bay of Bengal. Rarely a year passes without the vulnerable region experiencing heavy flooding. Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated countries, and its severe overcrowding is compounded by the waves of refugees from Burma.

Arjun said that the UN was “extremely concerned” about Bangladeshi communities in Cox’s Bazaar who appear to have been worst-affected by the floods, and was providing emergency shelter material. Repairs were already being carried out on the damaged infrastructure in the refugee camps.

The issue of the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority whom the Burmese government denies originate in Burma, has been problematic for Dhaka. Currently only around 28,000 are registered by the UN’s refugee agency, and attempts at registering more have been resisted by the Bangladesh government who fear a greater influx.

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