In the northern Bangladesh district of Kurigram, disaster had struck in late July 2002. Hundreds of kilometres to the west, in Rajasthan, drought stalked the land, but northern Bangladesh was flooded with excess water pouring in from the Subcontinent's northeastern stretches. Millions of survivors abandoned their homes for the relative security of marginally higher ground. The death toll, at that point reaching only into the low hundreds, included nearly as many deaths by diarrhoea as by drowning. Several people had died of snake bites, and relief workers were wading through submerged villages delivering what little aid there was. There was not nearly enough food or medicine for all those in need. "We could provide relief to only a small number of flood victims", explained a relief worker in Sirajganj.

Yet while the mounting human toll of Asia's swollen rivers daily added new names to its death registers, the world's rich averted their eyes, preferring to see instead the threatened historic districts and city centres of the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. In scenes made familiar through up-to-the-minute satellite coverage, floodwater filled subway stations in Prague's old city, endangered postcard landmarks such as the Charles Bridge and the National Opera, and devastated corners of the city dubbed by BBC World "a jewel of Central Europe". Just across the north-western Czech border, one of the German cultural capitals, Dresden, mobilised thousands of emergency workers and volunteers to save famous architectural landmarks like the Zwinger Palace and the Semper Opera House. Czech officials also organised the populace for flood fighting, and went so far as to airlift animals from the Prague zoo to safety. The summer floods, now safely in recess, claimed about 100 lives in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Russia and Romania together.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian