afrol News, 13 October - Devastating flooding has affected nearly half the communes of Benin. According to the government, 700,000 people have been affected, including more than 200,000 people whose homes have been damaged or destroyed.
A large humanitarian aid operation is now in its beginnings in Benin, a country usually not making headlines for natural disasters. But Beninese authorities and aid agencies have tough competition with other West And Central African countries, where a total of 1.5 million people are affected by the region-wide floods.
The government has declared a state of emergency and has asked for immediate international assistance. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the government is leading the relief work, with major contributions from the Beninese Red Cross, UN agencies, Caritas and Care International.
But the challenges are enormous. Crops, food supplies and livestock have been washed away by the floods, leaving 200,000 people in need of food assistance to survive until the next harvest in April 2011.
Humanitarian agenies in Benin paint a dramatic picture. "Heavy rains are continuing, and the waters have not yet started to recede. The standing water is also raising the risk of water-borne disease and malaria," Care reports from the West African country.
Affected areas are only reachable by boat, with floodwaters as high as two metres in some villages. Many families have taken refuge in medical centres or schools, the only buildings that remained above the floodwaters. Others have stayed behind to protect their homes, using wood to create platforms to stay above the water.
"Latrines have been flooded out, spreading waste in the same water that people are using to cook and bathe with. Families have told us that children are already suffering from diarrhea," said Huguette Sekpe, head of Care's emergency response in Benin, who just returned from the flood zone. "Water purification tablets will help prevent disease, but we need to reach people more quickly."
While government, the Beninese Red Cross and Caritas alredy have started relief work in Benin, handing out more than 160 tonnes of food aid, Care is only about to launch its work and yesterday appealed for "an initial US$1 million" for emergency aid in Benin.
OCHA has yet to assess the total need for aid following of the floods in Benin, but a UN disaster assessment team is leaving for the West African country today. Emergency funding needs may reach 100 US$ million, comparing the Benin floods with natural disasters of a similar size.
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