Bangladesh + 1 more

Bitter South Asian weather kills dozens more

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LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - The death toll from South Asia's coldest winter in decades climbed to 1,500 overnight, with no respite from near-freezing temperatures forecast for the next few days in the worst-hit areas.

The cold weather gripping northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal since Christmas killed 47 people in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, pushing the toll there above 750, officials said.

"We rule out any let-up in freezing conditions for the next three to four days at least," Uttar Pradesh weather department chief R. K. Verma told Reuters on Wednesday in Lucknow, the state capital.

In the impoverished eastern Indian state of Bihar, the toll rose to 125 after five more people died overnight. And in Bangladesh -- where more than 530 people have died -- newspaper reports said 12 more died overnight.

The cold spell, often accompanied by thick fog, has disrupted air, road and rail traffic across the region and closed schools.

Most of the victims are poor or homeless people, unable to afford warm clothes, blankets or fuel for fires. In some areas, authorities have lit public bonfires at night.

And the cold weather is also cutting the meagre incomes of the poorest.

"With God's wrath falling in the form of the freezing chill, it has become difficult to make ends meet as there are fewer passengers around," Awadhesh, a cycle rickshaw rider, said in Lucknow.

In parts of Bihar, temperatures fell to around three degrees Celcius (37 Fahrenheit), six degrees below the average minimum for this time of year, and schools and community halls are being used to shelter the homeless.

"I tried to sleep near a bonfire. But it was too crowded," 14-year-old Jeetan Mandal, a homeless labourer, told Reuters in Patna, capital of Bihar.

While winter temperatures in South Asia are not as severe as some other regions, millions feel the impact of cold more because they live on pavements or in shacks and do not have warm clothing or groups to help them.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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