Floods Hit up to 1.8 Million in Horn of Africa
NAIROBI Torrential rains and floods have hit up to 1.8 million people in the Horn of Africa, driving tens of thousands from their homes and threatening to trigger epidemics, U.N. aid bodies said on Friday.
In the latest reports of growing disaster around the region, the UNHCR refugee agency said rising waters had uprooted more than 78,000 people in northeast Kenya and completely cut off three refugee camps near Kenya's border with Somalia.
Heavy rains are forecast to continue into at least December, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Roads and bridges have been washed away, and homes destroyed, especially in Somalia, it said in a statement.
"Accumulated estimates from the three countries put the total number of affected people between 1.5 million and 1.8 million," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.
Helicopters were urgently needed to reach isolated villages under water in Somalia, where relief operations are hampered by conflict, she said.
Epidemics linked to polluted, stagnant water -- including cholera, malaria and dysentery -- are feared, so products to treat water and mosquito nets are urgently needed, Byrs said.
A dam on the river Tana in Kenya was "about to burst" and authorities were trying to warn the population. A breach must be opened to keep the dam, south of the town of Garissa, from collapsing, she said.
Kenya's health ministry has reported 13 cases of cholera and two deaths, she said.
The UNHCR refugee agency will fly emergency fuel, medicines and plastic sheets to Dadaab on Sunday, where some 160,000 mostly Somali refugees are sheltering in low-lying settlements after fleeing growing tensions in their homeland.
"If roads in the region remain impassable, UNHCR expects to mount further flights next week," it said in a statement.
Torrential rains have pounded the Horn of Africa this month, bringing misery to large parts of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea.
At least 47 people have died in floods in southern Somalia described as the worst for 50 years, and one charity said up to half a million children there needed emergency aid.
Kenya has reported more than 25 killed, according to the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP).
The UNHCR said the hospital at one refugee camp in Kenya had been badly damaged by the floods, and that its staff were digging dikes and stacking sandbags to try to protect other medical centres.
Kenyans living around the camps had also been affected, it added, and had turned to the U.N. for help.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the region in recent weeks, especially in Somalia, where many sleep outdoors in unsanitary conditions, according to the U.N. Children's Fund.
WFP said it had distributed emergency food rations to hard-hit Ifo camp in Kenya, which holds 54,000 refugees.
It planned to airlift 190 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits for 100,000 mainly Somali refugees and 100,000 Kenyans living in the Dadaab region of eastern Kenya.
"People were actually telling us that the present flooding is worse than the El Nino floods in 1997 that submerged most of eastern Kenya," WFP spokesman Simon Pluess said.n
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)