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Flooding in Benin Kills 43, Leaves 100,000 Homeless

Residents board canoes in a city street flooded by an overflowing drainage canal, in the Saint Martin neighborhood of Cotonou, Benin, 09 Oct. 2010

The United Nations says mass flooding in Benin has killed 43 people and affected 360,000.

A U.N. mission surveying Benin during the first 15 days of October says the impact of mass flooding in the country had been "underestimated" and the humanitarian situation there is increasingly worrying.

The United Nations said flood waters cover two-thirds of the country, and the disaster has affected more than 360,000 people, leaving 100,000 homeless.

Kemoral Jadjombaye of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is in Benin.

He says there were a series of heavy rains and the water levels of the Niger River, Oueme River, and Lake Nokoue rose. He says surrounding homes were flooded, taking residents by surprise. He says 43 people have died as a result of drowning and collapsed houses.

The United Nations said the flooding could heighten the spread of water-borne illnesses and worsen a cholera epidemic in Benin.

Seasonal flooding is a recurring problem throughout West Africa, but Jadjombaye said Benin has not seen a crisis of this scale since 1986.

He says nearly 280 schools were flooded and says flood waters also reached health centers, making them difficult for the population to reach. He says they are also concerned by the risk of food insecurity in the medium and the long-term due to flooded farmland.

He said Benin's government has begun distributing food, mosquito nets and other aid to the population, but there is still an urgent need for emergency shelter, food and clean water.