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UNICEF issues urgent appeal as Ethiopia flood toll rises and supplies run low

UNICEF Image: Ethiopia flood
© UNICEF Ethiopia/2006/Getachew
In order to protect the health of infants affected by massive flooding in South Omo region of Ethiopia, a UNICEF worker measures a baby's arm to check for any signs of malnutrition.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, 29 August 2006 – Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands more made homeless by floods sweeping across Ethiopia. UNICEF has launched an emergency appeal for $18.35 million to provide food, shelter and medicine to those struggling to survive.

Almost half the money is needed immediately as humanitarian supplies are running low.

Several months of excessive rain has flooded rivers and stranded families in low-lying areas. The Amhara region in the north of Ethiopia is one of the hardest hit. Some 200,000 people have been affected and the rains are expected to continue for several more weeks. Deadly water-borne diseases are one of the biggest threats now facing children.

“In Ethiopia, there are other factors such as malnutrition affecting children, so to add another burden such as disease makes them particularly vulnerable,” says UNICEF Emergency Planning Officer Susan Ngongi.

UNICEF Image: Ethiopia flood
© UNICEF Ethiopia/2006/Getachew
Nearly 500 flood-displaced members of the Desanech tribe are taking shelter in this makeshift camp.

Detecting and treating outbreaks

Acute watery diarrhoea has spread at an alarming rate since it was first reported in April; 15,520 cases and 156 deaths have been recorded, and UNICEF says that containing the disease continues to be a challenge.

“The floods are creating conditions for it to spread rapidly,” says Ms. Ngongi. “If it is not detected quickly and treated quickly, it kills fast.” It is difficult to know how many children have been infected because many communities have been isolated by the flooding, she adds.

UNICEF is helping local health centres detect and treat outbreaks and is providing essential medicine. UNICEF is also providing clean water and taking steps to improve sanitation. Acute watery diarrhoea is commonly transmitted through poor hygiene and dirty water.
 
A further 300,000 people living in flood-prone areas are thought to be at risk as the rains continue. Many dams are in danger of bursting and the Ethiopian Government is releasing 100 cubic meters of water a second to ease pressure. If the dams exceed capacity, many more areas of Ethiopia could face catastrophic flooding.


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Video

31 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on the humanitarian aid reaching flood survivors in south-west Ethiopia.
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29 August 2006:
Emergency Planning Officer Susan Ngongi says Ethiopian children are threatened by water-borne diseases in the current flood crisis.
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