Saturday, August 19, 2006

Extensive Flooding in Ethiopia: WFP Update

Reuters AlertNet -- Above normal rainfall has caused several rivers in Ethiopia to burst their banks and overflow, resulting in extensive flooding in many areas and subsequent loss of life.

To date, 618 people are officially confirmed dead after two major floods in separate regions – in southern and eastern Ethiopia. This figure is likely to rise as hundreds of people are still unaccounted for.

Floods are relatively common in Ethiopia during the rainy season between June and September when heavy rains from the highlands flow unchecked into the low lands. But in recent weeks, the flooding has been unusually intense and extensive.

Flooding (of varying intensity) has been reported from nearly all parts of the country.

Over 70,000 people have been affected; including some 16,000 who are known to have been displaced.

The National Meteorological Agency has indicated that normal to above normal rainfall, over large parts of the country, is likely in the next few days, which may induce severe flash floods.

Dire Dawa

In the early hours of 6 August, a flash flood hit Dire Dawa, Ethiopia’s second largest city, 500 kms east of Addis Ababa.

Some 254 people died and more than 200 are still missing. However, there has been no further flooding in the affected areas. Relief operations continue.

Huge quantities of mud and sand were dumped in Dire Dawa town and the surrounding areas after the Dechatu River burst its banks. The floods swept away houses, vehicles and animals, destroying markets and shops and damaging infrastructure.

Some 10,000 people have been affected or displaced by the flooding in Dire Dawa, and thousands are still camped in temporary shelters such as schools and tents. Many say these are the worst floods to have hit the town since 1997.

WFP activities

Registration and assessment of the displaced and affected was completed by WFP and the government at the end of last week (11 August) and WFP targeted food distributions began on 15 August.

WFP is providing beneficiaries with a one month ration, consisting of cereals, vegetable oil, CSB and salt.

Non-food items: plastic sheeting, cooking utensils and jerry cans from WFP’s warehouses in Dire Dawa, are also being distributed.

WFP is taking the lead among UN agencies and NGO’s in coordinating the delivery of general relief assistance.

WFP Ethiopia has deployed logistics officers, field monitors and staff from Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa offices to assist the local administration and other UN agencies.

A WFP flood task force is supporting and monitoring emergency operations not only in Dire Dawa, but throughout the country. The emergency response is complicated by the huge logistical challenges involved in finding temporary shelter and accommodation for such large numbers of people.

The local authorities in Dire Dawa have banned the rebuilding of settlements on the river banks and have declared the area a disaster zone.

Omo River, Southern Ethiopia

The Omo River, which flows into Kenya’s Lake Turkana, burst its banks between 8 and 13 August. Extensive flooding occurred in one district of south Omo zone with heavy loss of lives and property. Around 14 villages are flooded and cut off. To date, 364 people have been confirmed dead. As of 17 August, the number of displaced has risen to 8,350 from 6,000.

The Omo region is a remote area about 800 kilometres south of Addis Ababa.

Lack of communications and infrastructure in this large, relatively barren region, mean that details of the flooding only emerged at the beginning of the week (14 August).

A WFP field monitor on the scene said that some 2,700 heads of cattle and 760 traditional silos of grain have been washed away. As news comes in from remote villages now encircled by flood waters, the number of dead will undoubtedly increase.

The loss of so many heads of livestock is a disaster for the predominant pastoralists since livestock is their main source of income.

WFP’s field monitor is travelling by boat, to the affected islands dotted in and around the river, assisting with the search and rescue operations.

The government has sent high energy biscuits, grain, vegetable oil, pulses, and CSB and non-food items including jerry cans, blankets and plastic plates to the region. Helicopters have apparently started to drop food to flood victims.

WFP has some food stocks in its nearest warehouses in Awassa (approximately 600 kms from south Omo), and is ready to provide assistance as soon as the needs have been assessed.

WFP’s field monitor says there is an urgent need for tents, mosquito nets, medicine.

With corpses and carcases still floating in the flood waters, waterborne diseases are a threat. The only other UN agency represented on the ground is WHO.

Since 15 August, soldiers have been deployed and are assisting in search and rescue operations; 15 boats and one helicopter are being used, as well as army divers.

WFP Ethiopia’s logistics unit is in close contact with the government and is ready to offer support.

The government is urgently procuring life jackets on the local market. They are also purchasing half a million bags to be filled with sand to contain the floods.

A high level mission from the federal government in Addis Ababa and the regional government is in the affected area to assess the severity and magnitude of the disaster.

Poor weather conditions have hampered relief operations, preventing helicopters from landing and forcing rescue workers to use boats to help survivors. Uncertainty about the depth of the flood waters has also prevented helicopters from landing.

Amhara Region, Northern Ethiopia

Five districts are now affected by floods in this region. At least 2,200 people have been displaced in the Tana region. More and more people are being relocated by local authorities out of the flood-prone areas.

The total population affected by the current floods in this region alone is reported to be 34,000. Unconfirmed reports put the number of deaths at between 2 and 5 people.

The government has allocated food and non-food items for the displaced.

On 17 August, WFP staff joined an assessment team to visit one of the severely affected areas.

Reports of flooding and displacements have come from many other areas in Afar and Tigray, in northern Ethiopia and even in one district of Somali region, where until recently, was suffering from drought.

The Ethiopian government has appealed for help from the international community in swiftly responding to the disaster.

According to the government, the water levels of many major rivers (as well as Lake Tana and the major dams) have been rising and are threatening to burst their banks, causing substantial flooding.

More rains could cause the dams to spill over. To protect the country’s power generation plants, the government is likely to release water from the dams, which would seriously affect communities down stream and along the rivers banks. Precautionary measures such as strengthening or repairing of dykes and moving residents from the most vulnerable areas need to be done well in advance. The government has told people living around the most flood-prone areas to, “take precautions to avoid what could be a nationwide flood catastrophe.”

A team, comprising representatives from government, WFP and USAID are preparing an assessment along the Awash River (which is hundreds of kilometres long). The mission will determine the potential numbers who might be affected, if the Awash rises above its current level.

The Koka Dam which provides most of Ethiopia’s hydro electric power, is upstream of the Awash River, and is expected to release some of its waters in the coming days.

With many state farms and plantations along the Awash River, the economic impact could be massive if these were damaged or destroyed.

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