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UNICEF Rushes Aid to Ethiopian Flood Victims - 2003-05-09


This week southeastern Ethiopia experienced the worst flooding in six years leaving thousands displaced. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, says it is rushing emergency aid to flood victims.

The U.N. children's agency is calling the situation in the Somali region of Ethiopia desperate. The area, one of the country's poorest, is flooded after torrential rains broke the banks of the Wabi Shebelle River late last month.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says the region, inhabited mainly by nomadic people, had been experiencing severe drought. The hard-packed soil due to the drought, he says, has allowed the surging waters to sweep up everything up in their path. "About 110,000 people now are really affected - basically women and children - mostly," he said. "People have lost everything. They have abandoned their villages and have moved to some hills for safety. So we are really concerned about the outbreak of water borne diseases."

Mr. Personnaz says people are at risk of diseases, like cholera and typhoid, because with few safe water supplies available they have started to drink directly from the river. He says in order to reduce the risk of epidemic, the U.N. children's agency is trucking and flying in emergency drug kits as well as water and sanitation supplies to the remote area.

He says UNICEF is particularly concerned about the health of children affected by the flooding because most of them are already malnourished due to the effects of the drought. But despite UNICEF's efforts, Mr. Personnaz says not all the flood victims can be helped at this time. "So far, we will manage to reach 30,000 to 40,000. A lot of them are still stranded by waters and they are stuck in neighboring hills and mountains," sad Damien Personnaz. "It is very difficult to reach them. We need motorboats and we need maybe also for the floods to recede. So it will take quite awhile before we reach everybody who is affected. "

Mr. Personnaz says the floods are not showing any sign of receding. He adds that UNICEF also fears that the waters, when they move down to Somalia in the next week or two, could cause major flooding there.