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Flood conditions in Bangladesh show signs of stabilising after weeks of heavy rain wreaked havoc on the country, leaving over 300 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, according to the government.“The situation is improving,” Masud Siddiqui, director-general of the country’s Disaster Management Bureau, in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, told IRIN. “The water is receding.”

Despite his optimism, concerns over an increase in water-borne diseases – in particular diarrhoea – coupled with the delivery of much needed food assistance, remain.

“The most vulnerable are the rural poor. They are the poorest of the poor and the government is doing its utmost to reach them,” Siddiqui said.

Over 10 million people were affected and 363 killed when rivers burst their banks after heavy monsoon rains, affecting a 25,000sqkm area, according to government figures issued on 15 August.

Most of the deaths were caused by drowning, snakebites, electrocution and house collapses.

While Bangladesh has experienced a bigger than average flood this year, it has yet to reach the mega proportions of the 2004 floods, in which some 30 million people were affected.

About a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, hampering economic development. Population density and poverty mean that many of the country’s 150 million plus inhabitants live in flood-prone areas.

“An emergency situation does exist, but this is not a national disaster like in mega flood years,” Renata Lok Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator for the country, told IRIN.

“Bangladesh has floods every year and systems have been developed over many years to respond. They are working and donors and the humanitarian community are responding,” Dessallien explained.

As part of its ongoing relief efforts, the UN is already providing food and nonfood-related assistance to over 225,000 families in the affected areas.

“People are leaving the shelters and going back. That’s an improvement,” she said.

At its peak, some 370,000 people were in shelters; a figure that has dropped to 250,000, she elaborated.

“The government’s response system in place is working,” Andrew Trevett, acting country director for the World Health Organization, said.

The most urgent needs include food, temporary shelter and mosquito nets, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement on 10 August.

In terms of food, it was noted that the initial demand for high protein biscuits being distributed by the World Food Programme had quickly switched to rice.

But much depends on the weather: “We’re halfway through the monsoon season. We’re not out of the woods yet… If more rains fall, things could get worse,” Dessallien warned.

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