Bangladesh + 2 more

Deadly cold grips south Asia

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Situation Report
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A cold snap that has gripped South Asia for one month has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. As bitter northern winds continue to whip across the three countries, relief workers are racing to distribute blankets and warm clothing to the most vulnerable residents.
While official death tolls have varied, authorities agree that the region hit hardest by the bitter weather has been Bangladesh, an impoverished country unaccustomed to cold conditions. On Tuesday (Jan. 14), temperatures plunged to near freezing, causing 30 more deaths and bringing the estimated total number of casualties since December to 642.

Typically a tropical monsoon climate with short, mild winters, Bangladesh's current conditions have caught residents unprepared. Those most severely affected are undernourished and underweight residents and those who lost their homes and possessions during the extensive June - August floods, which impacted at least 3.5 million people.

In 15 of the hardest hit districts, thousands of residents have inundated medical centers increasingly overwhelmed by the staggering cases of cold-related illnesses, such as high fevers, pneumonia, asthma and respiratory complications.

To combat the situation, the Bangladesh government distributed 5,000 blankets from its disaster emergency stocks and appealed to all in-country humanitarian organizations to help.

Taking up the call to action, the volunteers from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society immediately rushed to distribute blankets, warm clothes and high-protein biscuits from its emergency stocks to the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and the homeless.

Meanwhile, life in the northern and northwestern districts has essentially slowed to a standstill due to a thick fog enveloping the regions, further deteriorating the bleak situation. Weather officials have warned all residents to stay indoors as the heavy fog continues to block the sun and suppress already frigid temperatures.

Bangladesh's bitter state is echoed in neighboring Nepal and India. Tuesday night's freeze claimed the lives of 78 people in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 437 residents have died in just four weeks, and 30 in the eastern Bihar state. In Nepal, 8 people died from cold-related illnesses Tuesday evening, bringing the country's death toll to 35.

Governments in both Nepal and India have responded to the crisis, and are distributing blankets and dry firewood to the homeless.

Meanwhile, all three affected countries finally received good news on Wednesday, when forecasters announced that warmer weather was on the horizon and predicted the freeze would lift in as soon as two days.

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