A rapidly spreading epidemic of diarrhea pushed the official death toll in Bangladesh monsoon floods to 650 on Tuesday. Unofficial reports put the death toll at more than 1,000.
Officials said 102,000 people were now ill after drinking contaminated water or eating rotten food, 30,000 of them in the capital of Dhaka and its suburbs."We are fighting an uphill battle to contain the disease and save those already fallen sick," said Dr. Kazi Anwarullah, a Dhaka hospital physician.
"Hundreds of new patients are being registered every hour but we do not have enough medicine or saline to treat them," he said.
"The situation seems to be running out of control," another doctor told reporters.
In the capital, men, women and children lined up at distribution centers in waist-deep floodwater long before officials and volunteers arrived with sacks of rice and containers of drinking water.
But many went away empty-handed as supplies soon ran out, witnesses said.
Officials say people in rural areas are facing far worse conditions.
They say at least 25 million of Bangladesh's 110 million people have lost their homes in the floods, with about 10 million of them completely isolated in remote areas.
"People have lived for days together by drinking floodwater and eating food even animals will not touch," said Nurul Islam in Atti, a village five miles northwest of Dhaka.
Latif Miah in the nearby village of Balurchar said: "The floods have washed away my rice crop, a small stationery shop and household belongings. I am now just a beggar."
Thousands of families huddling on river embankments or clinging to their sumberged homes face death from starvation, disease or snakebite.
Bangladesh air force helicopters and four from India are ferrying relief goods to the areas hit worst.
"But that is just peanuts compared with the vast number of people almost on the verge of starvation," an official in northern Gaibandha district said.
Information Minister Mahbubur Rahman said relief distribution would improve when four helicopters promised by Saudi Arabia and two from Iraq arrived.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia say they will start sending relief supplies as soon as Dhaka airport, closed by floods since Friday, reopens, he told the official BSS news agency.
Bangladesh has also received pledges of nearly $15 million in immediate aid from Japan, Pakistan, Britain, the United States, Australia and Canada following an appeal by President Hossain Mohammad Ershad.
The floods have disrupted road and rail communications between Bangladesh's main port at Chittagong and the rest of the country.
They have also destroyed 3 million tons of rice and other crops worth more than $800 million, 2,200 miles of roads and 250 bridges.