South Asia cold snap causes more deaths, misery

LUCKNOW, India, Jan 23 (Reuters) - South Asia's bitter cold wave killed at least 60 more people overnight, raising the toll from near-freezing temperatures sweeping the region since Christmas to around 1,560.

Thousands of homeless people crowded around bonfires to keep themselves warm in India's vast northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where night temperatures have plunged as low as 1.2 degrees Celsius (34.16 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We have to spend the entire night under the open sky. Whatever firewood was provided by officials got burned in just about two hours," Jagdish, a homeless man, told Reuters in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

Although the sun was out for the first time in many days in some parts of northern India, cold winds kept temperatures low.

Weather officials said the cold spell was likely to continue another few days.

South Asia's winters are not as cold as other regions such as North America, but people here are hit harder because millions live in the open and do not have any warm clothes.

"The biting chill is persisting largely due to accumulation of dry icy winds coming all the way from Siberia," Uttar Pradesh Meteorological Chief R.K. Verma told Reuters.

In Uttar Pradesh, another 45 people died overnight due to the cold, pushing the state's total death toll this winter to around 800.

In the neighbouring state of Bihar, another five died overnight, pushing the state's toll to 135.

Authorities have been struggling to help the poor and homeless cope with the cold wave by providing firewood and blankets but some complained the efforts were inadequate.

"After toiling the whole day, I bought straw to cover the cold ground I sleep on. But during the night, my friends and I had to burn the straw in order to keep warm," Kishori Das, a rickshaw puller, said in Patna, Bihar's capital.

Officials in Bihar said they were worried the extended cold wave would damage the state's maize, potato and oilseeds crops.

Neighbouring Bangladesh also continued to shiver with newspapers reporting another 10 deaths in the past 24 hours. About 530 people have died in the country's bitter weather this year.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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