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UN Funds Flood Relief Effort in Ghana

The United Nations says it will be giving more than $2 million in emergency aid to Ghana, because severe floods displaced thousands of people in the country. It says close to $8 million more will be needed to support relief efforts and has made a joint appeal with several non-governmental organizations to raise the additional funds. Phillip Wellman reports from our West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

The U.N. says the first aid installment will be used to finance what it calls emergency life-saving needs. These include transporting people away from contaminated water, distributing mosquito nets, reinforcing houses that are about to collapse and providing clean water and food.

Heavy rains began falling in many parts of West Africa in late August and mid-September, resulting in devastating floods throughout the region.

Government officials in Ghana say more people have been affected by the floods in the country than in all other West African countries, combined.

Since mid-September, three regions in northern Ghana have been declared disaster zones. Collectively, they generate about half of the country's total agricultural output.

Ghanaian Deputy Coordinator for the National Disaster Management Organization Dr. Kwaku Osei-Akom says many people are worried that a serious food shortage could occur.

"A lot of the area up there is the breadbasket," said Osei-Akom. "They supply the yams, maize and rice. Now that their crops have been taken over by the disaster, we are expecting some difficulties come the harvest season."

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture estimates more than 100,000 metric tones of crops have been lost because of the floods. Prices of all staples have doubled and not all food commodities are available at markets, because of flooded roads and submerged bridges.

The ministry says 75,000 people are at risk of malnutrition until next year's harvest, which will only take place if crops can be planted by March, 2008.

Osei-Akom says the government is doing everything it can to help.

"As it is now, it is a little bit gloomy so the government will have to import food items to supplement what is available here," added Osei-Akom. "The government is working, around the clock, to help."

Head of the U.N. West African Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Herve Lubovic de Lys, says outside aid is necessary to prevent some of the complications that might arise from the floods.

"When we say that the U.N. is appealing for money for Ghana we should also highlight the fact that the government of Ghana itself has put $6.6 million on the table to care for these people," said de Lys. "It is when they reached a point that they realized that their own capacities were not enough to respond to the crisis that they turned to the international community."

Lubovic de Lys says, since the flooding, the United Nations has reinforced its presence in Ghana to coordinate responses to calls for help, mobilize resources and to try and make sure people are not affected by a similar disaster, in the future.

"We want to make sure that, over the next few months, Ghana will remain at the forefront of the agenda when it comes to managing the aftermath of the floods," added de Lys.

The U.N. says additional funds from their appeal will ensure that those cut off by floodwaters have access to health services, through outreach and mobile clinics.