By Edward Bally
COTONOU, Benin, 9 November 2010—When floodwaters inundated Vossa, a suburb of Cotonou, Lucie Zanou had to leave her house in the middle of the night carrying her two children. The floods destroyed most of her belongings and all of the crops she grew to support her family.
|VIDEO: 23 October 2010 - UNICEF's Edward Bally reports on support for mothers and children affected by recent heavy rains and flooding in Benin. Watch in RealPlayer|
Ms. Zanou found shelter under a truck and managed to save a basin, where she washes her children. “It’s our only solution, but is not safe for us to live. I have to bathe my children on the side of the road, we urgently need food and clothes,” she said.
Almost 200,000 children affected
About 680,000 people have been affected by recent heavy rainfall and floods in Benin. Among those affected are almost 200,000 children who still cannot live a normal life.
In fact, the rain and floods that hit five West African countries have displaced a total of almost 1.5 million people. The priority for UNICEF and its partners is to avoid disease outbreaks in flood-ravaged areas.
|© UNICEF video|
|Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless by flooding in Benin. UNICEF and its partners are distributing shelter materials, blankets, safe water and purification tablets, as well as mosquito nets and food.|
“Once the water retreats, it infiltrates the soil and contaminate the wells,” said UNICEF Water and Sanitation Expert Francois Bellet, who came from Senegal to assess the situation. “We are very concerned that cholera cases could skyrocket. Children would be especially at risk. We fear an increasing child mortality rate in the coming weeks.”
Getting back to normal
In Kpakankamey, also located in the suburbs of Cotonou, Julienne Baoungbola and her five children are starting to suffer due to the stagnant water in their contaminated well.
|© UNICEF video|
|Lucie Zanou had to leave her house in the middle of the night carrying her two children when torrential waters flooded Cotonou, Benin. The only shelter the family could find was under a truck.|
“We all feel more and more sick,” she said. “My daughter has headaches and fever. I think it’s because we use a bad water and because we spend our days in the water. My dream now is a pair of boots for my children.”
So far, Ms. Baoungbola has no choice but to stay at home with her children, as the neighbouring school is still closed because of the floods. More than 100,000 Beninese children are waiting to return to school.
UNICEF will distribute thousands of school kits to help children get back to a normal education when their classes resume. But for the children of Ms. Zanou and Ms. Baoungbola, and all the flood-affected children of Benin, getting back to a normal life may take time.