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WFP Airlifts Aid to Flood Area in Southeastern Ethiopia

In the first day of a 10-day operation, the World Food Program Thursday delivered badly needed supplies to people hit by heavy flooding in the Mustahil area in southeastern Ethiopia. The floods have affected more than 300,000 people across the region. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Two Mi-8 helicopters carrying emergency supplies left from Gode, the administrative capital of Ethiopia's Somali region, which borders Somalia. The helicopters flew to the Mustahil area, where at least 65,000 people are estimated to need help coping with the floods.

The World Food Program says Mustahil is one of the areas worst affected by flooding since it is largely cut off from the rest of the country.

VOA spoke by telephone with WFP official Paulette Jones, who is in the agency's Addis Ababa office. She describes Thursday's relief effort.

"I've got a colleague on the ground who I've just spoken to - he was on the helicopters," Jones said. "They identified an area which wasn't flooded, an area which was dry, and WFP has field monitors and other people assisting from the regional administration and they were there to await the delivery of the emergency supplies."

Jones says flood waters have receded in some areas of the Somali region, while in others, the waters are still raging, preventing aid workers from delivering supplies.

The World Food Program estimates that 362,000 people in the region have lost their livelihoods because of the massive flooding. Some 80 people have been killed, more than 122,000 displaced, and many roads, bridges and homes have been destroyed by the waters.

Jones says the flood comes after a long drought that had already caused much suffering in the region.

"People in the flood-affected areas have just endured one of the worst droughts in the Horn of Africa in recent years, and now they've had to experience this very, very severe flooding," he said. "We know that many people have lost their livelihoods, their animals; there's talk of disease spreading, property has been lost, infrastructure, roads, etc. have been affected. People, however, are very resourceful. They shared food and they used whatever techniques they could."

The helicopters are expected to travel to Kelafo and East Imi, two other areas hit hard by the floods, in the next few days.

Thurday's airlift was the beginning of a 10-day operation in the three locations where hundreds of thousands of people are expected to receive food and non-food items.