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West Africa Floods Cause Health Risks


The World Health Organization reports rising floodwaters across West Africa are intensifying health risks for millions of people, and adding to the impact of the food price crisis. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The rainy season in West Africa has been exceptionally fierce this year. More than 200,000 people in six countries have been displaced by flooding.

Benin, Togo, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso are exceedingly poor and prone to food shortages. WHO spokesman Paul Garwood says the flooding is exacerbating the food crisis and malnutrition in the region.

"So, the damage caused by flooding and the displacement of people in this region is raising further health risks," he said. "We can see from Benin, in particular, there have been more than 150,000 people displaced. We are seeing a cholera outbreak in that country, where currently 192 cases have been confirmed. In Guinea-Bissau, we are seeing a continuing outbreak of cholera there with 2,018 cases reported, 41 deaths as a result of cholera."

Epidemic communicable diseases are common in West Africa. Malaria is the main cause of illness and death in the region. Meningitis, cholera and yellow fever also claim many lives every year.

Garwood says these problems are bound to get worse because of the extra strains placed by the floods on the health sector. He says extensive damage to the infrastructure in the region also is hampering the delivery of aid.

"So far, we have seen throughout these countries bridges collapsing, roads being cut, many passengers and power for infrastructure, logistics for supplies being broken," said Garwood. "This has particularly affected the delivery of health supplies, nutrition supplies to affected communities."

The World Health Organization is providing essential medicines and assessing the health status of the vulnerable populations, particularly children, women and the elderly. It also is helping to raise badly needed money to fund these programs.

The United Nations has appealed for more than $400 million to address the urgent needs of the flood stricken countries in West Africa. Garwood says $76 million of this money is needed for emergency health care. But, to date, he says, only 22 percent of the health funding needs have been met.

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