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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

In West Africa flood response, UNICEF focuses on the most vulnerable children

© UNICEF Benin/2007/Asselin
Road cut off by floodwaters near the town of Amakpa in Benin, one of the countries inundated by floods that have affected at least 1.5 million people across West Africa.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, 25 September 2007 – Four weeks of heavy flooding have taken a damaging toll on countries in West and Central Africa, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced, several hundred killed, and homes and farmland swept away.

UNICEF teams have been effective in distributing immediate emergency supplies such as water-purification tablets and essential medicines to affected areas, but the size of the disaster and its length make it an exceptionally difficult emergency to address.

In its emergency response, UNICEF is focusing in particular on northern Ghana, northern Togo and parts of Burkina Faso because of the large numbers of already vulnerable children in those countries.

“It’s a complex emergency. It’s actually hit very poor places, places where we know the statistics for child mortality and nutrition are bad anyway, and that’s our prime concern at the moment,” said UNICEF Regional Communication Advisor Martin Dawes.

Lasting effects of flood disaster

An estimated 75,000 people in Ghana are in immediate need, and the most at risk are 15,000 children under the age of five. UNICEF is working with other relief agencies to assess needs and distribute medical and educational supplies.

© UNICEF Benin/2007/Asselin
A man carries a bicycle on his shoulder across an overflowing river near the town of Amakpa, Benin.

The situation in Togo, where some 60,000 people have lost their homes, has been exacerbated by the collapse of bridges and culverts. Road access to neighbouring countries is sporadic, making it hard for help to get through. To make matters worse, Togo has lost 10 per cent of its farmland, and heavy rain has meant boreholes are likely to be contaminated – which makes both food shortages and disease likely in the future.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from Burkina Faso suggest that more than 40,000 people in 45 districts have been affected by flooding.

‘Preparing for more malaria’

The wet season is coming to an end, but the effects of this disaster will continue. UNICEF is working to make sure more lives are not lost.

“We’re watching actively for outbreaks of diseases like cholera that can go through displaced populations very quickly and kill children very fast. We’re also preparing for more malaria,” Mr. Dawes said, adding that UNICEF has already distributed more than 10,000 insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria in Ghana, and similar quantities in other flood-affected countries.

Among the other countries where UNICEF and its humanitarian partners have been assisting flood-affected children and families are Benin, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria.




24 September 2007:
Regional Communication Advisor Martin Dawes discusses how UNICEF is helping vulnerable children affected by flooding in 18 African nations.
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