UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Severe floods ravage eastern Africa

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© UNICEF/HQ06-1425/Heavens
On the banks of Lake Tana in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara Region, a boy wrapped in a tattered blanket shields himself from the cold at the Worke Meda Camp for people displaced by floods.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 14 November 2006 – Tens of thousands of people in eastern Africa have fled their homes, and many have died, as a result of heavy flooding in recent weeks. Somalia in particular has been severely affected, along with neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya.

In central and southern Somalia, the country's two main rivers – the Jubba and the Shabelle – have burst over their banks, triggering fresh floods. The Shabelle River crosses into both Ethiopia and Kenya, and has brought havoc there as well.

“Right now, there are several operational constraints in trying to mount a humanitarian response to the floods,” says UNICEF Emergency Programme Officer Susan Ngongi, noting that many bridges and roads have been washed away.

In Somalia, adds Ms. Ngongi, there are additional challenges. “The areas most affected are already the most vulnerable in the country, and recently there’s been a lot of conflict so they are also insecure,” she explains. “So we have a situation where we’re trying to respond with very little personnel on the ground because of the security situation.”

Health situation worsening

Across the flood zone, thousands of poor farming families now find themselves sleeping outside in the cold, exposed to malaria and other diseases. The situation is raising serious concerns among aid workers, who fear a rapid increase in the death toll.

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© UNICEF/HQ06-1431/Heavens
Flooded fields surround what is left of Abiabo Village near the banks of Lake Tana in the northern Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Floods have forced over 2,000 people from the community to move to higher ground.

In northeastern Kenya, for example, the heavily populated Daadab camp for displaced people is practically cut off by flooding, and the health situation is worsening.

“UNICEF’s main concern in regards to health is the spread of waterborne diseases. Key among them are cholera, dysentery and acute watery diarrhea,” notes Ms. Ngongi.

The environment created by the floods – with so many people displaced, and latrines and safe-water sources destroyed – facilitates the epidemic spread of waterborne diseases. UNICEF and its partners are working to provide safe water in flood-affected regions.

Reaching remote areas

At Daadab, where floods have destroyed the camp’s collapsible latrines, UNICEF is distributing water-purification tablets and oral rehydration packs to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, as well as emergency health kits. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has airlifted emergency food supplies to the camp.

Similar efforts are under way across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

“In all three countries,” says Ms. Ngongi, “UNICEF is working with its partners to deliver non-food items – specifically, water and sanitation supplies – and ready-to-eat food such as fortified biscuits for children. In Ethiopia, UNICEF is also supporting mobile clinics in most affected areas.”

Still, the task of assisting children and families in remote, flood-ravaged areas remains a major logistical challenge. Helicopters and boats are sometimes the only means of transport that can reach these locations, but as Ms. Ngongi points out, “they are significant in terms of cost.”


 

 

Video

14 November 2006:
UNICEF Emergency Programme Officer Susan Ngongi talks about the latest situation and relief efforts in flood-stricken eastern Africa.
 VIDEO  high | low

Audio

15 November 2006:
UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen discusses the magnitude of the flood disaster in the region.
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