Cold spell in S. Asia claims more lives

DHAKA: As fierce winds swept in from the Himalayas, the death toll from a month-long cold spell rose to at least 986 people in northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh, officials said yesterday. 

Bangladesh, where at least 50 mostly elderly women and children died on Sunday, has been hardest hit with 590 people dead from the cold since the temperatures dropped last month.  

Temperatures have dipped to between 3°C and 6°C throughout much of the region. Such temperatures can be fatal in impoverished areas of South Asia, where millions live without heat, electricity or warm clothing in uninsulated homes. 

Even the homes of the wealthy often do not have heating since winters in the region are typically brief and mild. 

In Uttar Pradesh state, at least 21 people died from Sunday to yesterday morning, pushing the death toll from the cold there to 343, a state government official said on condition of anonymity. 

Early morning thick fog hampered road, rail, river and air transport and stranded thousands of people for hours in India and Bangladesh. Morning flights to Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, were cancelled or rescheduled.  

Schools have been closed until Jan 16 because of the cold wave sweeping the state.  

Another 30 people have perished in Bihar state, officials said. Trains in the state were running nearly eight hours behind schedule due to dense fog and low visibility. 

In Nepal, at least 23 people have died due to cold weather, a Home Ministry official said in Kathmandu, the capital. 

Most of those killed were children or old people.  

Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia toured parts of Dhaka late Sunday night and distributed blankets and warm clothing to the homeless sleeping on pavements, her office said. 

The meteorological office has warned of another cold spell later this month. – AP 

  • Another perspective from The Statesman, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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