Benin floods affect 680,000: UN

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Flooding in the West African state of Benin has affected 680,000 people, UN officials said Friday, adding that the situation was worsening and an aid airlift was planned.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Adrian Edwards said the agency "is expecting to begin an emergency airlift to Benin in the next days amid the floods there which according to government and UN estimates are now affecting some 680,000 people."

Edwards said that while the UNHCR's normal work in Benin was with the refugee and asylum-seeking population of some 7,300, "we have been called upon to help with the emergency shelter needs of some of the homeless people in southern parts of the country where we have a presence."

"As of today the focus is on making arrangements for the reception, storage and distribution of our relief items," he said. "We plan to initially airlift some 3,000 tents from our emergency stockpile in Copenhagen."

The UNHCR has already been providing tents and mosquito nets from more limited stockpiles in the region," Edwards said. "We are also providing logistical support to our partners for their transportation needs while reinforcing our staff presence."

The rising number of people affected in the small country of 8.8 million was "of clear concern to all of us," he added.

While seasonal heavy rains have been hitting West Africa for several months Benin had experienced flooding "well beyond normal."

"Fifty-five out of the country's 77 districts are affected," Edwards said. "Weather forecasts this morning show no signs of any let up yet."

Elisabeth Byrs of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also said the numbers of affected people would rise, adding that an appeal for funds and aid was being planned.

Experts had assessed needs for fresh water and purification measures, food and shelter, she said.

OCHA official Kemoral Jadjombaye said in Cotonou Monday that the floods had killed 43 people through drowning or the collapse of homes and left nearly 100,000 homeless.

A cholera outbreak has added to the misery, with 800 cases counted across Benin, including seven deaths, Jadjombye said.

Aid organisations acknowledge they face logistical problems in distributing assistance, indicating that Benin does not have a sufficient stock of emergency supplies on hand.

Floods have hit a wide swathe of West and Central Africa in recent months, destroying entire villages and killing more than 100 people in Nigeria alone. Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger are among the other nations affected.

Farms have also been ruined and officials have expressed concern over how the flooding will affect food supply. Nigeria's north has seen a deadly cholera outbreak this year as well.

The United Nations says 377 people have died in the flooding, with nearly 1.5 million people affected since the start of the rainy season in June, a record.

© 2010 AFP

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