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Resources needed to help children and families cope with Ethiopia floods

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2006/Heavens
Stranded villagers wait on the northern banks of Ethiopia’s swollen Lake Tana as a ship delivers sacks of emergency food. Weeks of heavy rain have left more than 630 dead and thousands homeless across Ethiopia.

By Andrew Heavens

LAKE TANA, Ethiopia, 11 September 2006 – Sisay Zegey, 8, huddled close to her older sister at the edge of a crowd gathered in the middle of a windswept open field in Ethiopia's central Amhara Region.

"We came here three weeks ago," she says. "It was when the rain started eating up our village."

Sisay is one of many thousands evacuated from their homes as heavy rains flooded rural communities close to the banks of Amhara's swollen Lake Tana, the vast body of water at the source of the Blue Nile.

Along with her parents, two brothers and three sisters, Sisay was taken from her village of Nalsekeh to Worke Mede – one of a string of camps erected in late August and early September around the lake by regional government authorities. The camps are supplied by UNICEF, other UN bodies and development organizations.

At the centre of the field, crowds gather close around three men who are calling out names and throwing out bundles of blankets to the people who answer. Each bundle, clearly marked with a UNICEF label, is earmarked for a specific household – with the camp’s entire 9,000-strong population covered by the distribution.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2006/Heavens
A boy looks over flooded fields on the edge of swollen Lake Tana, in Ethiopia’s central Amhara Region, where UNICEF has already delivered more than $2 million worth of emergency assistance.

‘We have nowhere to pray’

Things are not going so smoothly more than two hours' drive up the eastern coast of Lake Tana, where another small community is taking refuge from floodwaters that have burst through the banks of a tributary river.

"I have never seen rain like this," says Habtom Yaze, 11, as he wades waist-deep through a flood of muddy water that rushes past his family's hut in the remote village of Abiabo, in Dembia District. Habtom can remember exactly when the heavy rains started falling in late July. "It was in the middle of the night. I woke up because it was so cold," he says.

Living conditions started to deteriorate seriously in Abiabo in early September when a particularly heavy downpour flooded fields 50 metres from the bank of the lake and poured into the heart of the village.

"We have our daily bread," said Kende Fanta, a village elder and farmer. "But we need seeds to replace our crops. Our livestock is dying. The chickens and beehives are totally washed out. Our church is flooded so we have nowhere to pray."

And then there are the blankets. There are more than 2,000 people in Abiabo, most of them living under plastic sheeting in a makeshift camp on slightly higher ground above the village. But so far, only 650 blankets have arrived to keep villagers warm through the freezing, damp nights.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2006/Heavens
A boy stands in front of his flooded village in the countryside around Bahir Dar, the capital of Ethiopia’s Amhara Region. UNICEF Ethiopia is appealing for $18.35 million to respond to the needs of flood-affected children and families.

Urgent appeal for aid

UNICEF has so far spent more than $2 million in responding to floods that have hit communities across Ethiopia – inundating South Omo in the south, Dire Dawa in the east, Gambella in the west and Tigray in the north. The organization has supplied everything from plastic sheeting, water purification tablets and blankets to medicines, soap, cooking sets and jerry cans for water.

Supplies and resources are now running low, however. Two weeks ago, UNICEF's office in Ethiopia issued an appeal for more than $18.35 million so that it could keep up the relief effort

"We need to step up our work in all these areas quickly," said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Björn Ljungqvist. "We have been able to do a lot already to help some of the most vulnerable children. But our supplies are now exhausted and the weather forecasts for the rest of the month are ominous."

UNICEF estimates that more than 90,000 Ethiopian children have been affected by the floods, leaving them homeless and exposed to the risk of diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea, measles and pneumonia. If, as forecast, the heavy rain continues throughout September, the number of vulnerable children could rise into the hundreds of thousands.



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