|© AP Photo/Valentin|
|Residents board canoes in a city street flooded by an overflowing drainage canal in the Saint Martin neighborhood of Cotonou, Benin.|
COTONOU, Benin, 19 October 2010 – UNICEF, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Government of Benin are mounting a humanitarian response to massive flooding that has covered two-thirds of the country’s land mass.
Triggered by unseasonably heavy rains that caused the Oueme and Mono rivers to overflow, the floods have taken a toll across this West African nation. They have destroyed homes, schools and health centres, claiming 43 lives and leaving nearly 100,000 homeless. The flood crisis now affects a total of more than 358,000 people – including some 65,000 children under the age of five.
A Crisis Management Unit, chaired by the Minister of Interior and Public Security, is overseeing the overall response to the disaster. UNICEF and seven other agencies are involved in the UN response, which the Resident Coordinator is directing with operational support from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team.
Following a joint rapid assessment to evaluate the most pressing humanitarian needs, the agencies have taken action in priority areas such as water and sanitation, health, nutrition and shelter.
The risk of waterborne disease in the wake of the floods is real; a cholera epidemic has already affected hundreds of people, causing seven reported deaths. As the lead agency for water and sanitation, UNICEF has so far provided 262, 000 water-purification tablets, 15 water tanks, 1,000 water containers, 250 latrines and other supplies to flood-affected communities in Seme Podji and Cotonou, Benin’s largest city.
Nutrition and education
UNICEF has also distributed nutrition supplies – including therapeutic milk and Plumpy’nut, a high-protein, ready-to-eat paste – to help prevent malnutrition among affected children and women. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has provided 12 tonnes each of rice and maize, supplementing food aid and other relief offered by the Government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
To ensure continuity of education and a sense of normalcy for children affected by the crisis, the government has relocated students from 276 damaged or destroyed schools to alternate locations. UNICEF is preparing school kits for distribution to children as they return to their classes.
A UN flash appeal for Benin is being prepared to fund ongoing aid operations. For the short term, an $8 million funding request is being sent to the Central Emergency Response Fund, a humanitarian fund established by the UN to enable more timely and reliable assistance in the immediate aftermath of emergencies.