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Nigerian Flood Victims at Risk of Waterborne Diseases

People wade through a flood with their belongings after their houses were submerged in the Amassoma community in Bayelsa state, Nigeria, October 6, 2012.
People wade through a flood with their belongings after their houses were submerged in the Amassoma community in Bayelsa state, Nigeria, October 6, 2012.
The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases. Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Massive flooding in Nigeria between July and October has resulted in widespread damage to infrastructure and to livelihoods. The floodwaters now are receding, but the destructive impact of the disaster will take a long time to repair.

A U.N. inter-agency mission was carried out in the areas worst hit by the flood at the end of October. On the basis of that assessment, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Nigeria will need $38 million to respond to the humanitarian needs.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says most of those displaced by the floods are living with host communities. But, some are living in camp-like settlements and many others are sheltering in schools and other public buildings.

“All those millions of people who have been affected are mainly from farming and fishing communities along the river. They have seen either their farmlands completely inundated, submerged by water. They have seen their fishing equipment, nets and so on washed away. So, they are today basically been robbed of their livelihoods," said Laerke.

Laerke says the response plan targets 2.1 million internally displaced people in need of humanitarian assistance. Much of the aid will provide water and sanitation, food, shelter material and non-food items, such as mosquito nets and kitchen sets.

The U.N. Children’s Fund, one of the agencies working on flood relief, warns of the spread of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea and malaria. It says the provision of clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene support are the most critical, lifesaving priorities.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says many wells and water pumps have been submerged and latrines either have collapsed or become flooded. She says health facilities have been damaged.

“In the places that were visited, 63 percent of the IDPs [Internally Displaced People] were getting their drinking water from ponds or streams and unprotected wells. The rest were using harvested rainwater, boreholes or public water sources. Almost 70 percent were defecating in the open, 20 percent in pit latrines, and 10 percent in improved pit latrines. …In the communities visited, 53 percent of the schools were either destroyed or occupied by IDPs," said Mercado.

UNICEF says its $9 million share of the $38 million joint appeal will go mainly for water, sanitation and hygiene. Mercado says UNICEF already has reached over one-quarter of a million displaced people in 17 camps with emergency supplies.

She says the agency was able to do this because it had pre-positioned supplies. But now, she says, UNICEF is working to bring in water treatment supplies, insecticide treated mosquito nets and mobile toilets.