Global perspective Human stories

UN flies in more aid to hundreds of thousands of flood victims in Horn of Africa

UN flies in more aid to hundreds of thousands of flood victims in Horn of Africa

By truck, donkey cart and on foot, thousands of Somalis who have already fled fighting and drought in their homeland are trekking from flooded refugee camps to drier ground in north-east Kenya as United Nations agencies rush in emergency supplies for up to 1.8 million people hit by the worst floods in years in the Horn of Africa.

“Health and sanitation remain a serious concern,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today of the Somalis in the Dadaab complex, where the agency has already flown in five planeloads of relief supplies since Sunday. “The general health of the population has deteriorated due to the conditions, lack of food and sleep and difficulty in accessing medical care.

“Latrines throughout the camps have been flooded, contaminating standing water and posing a serious health risk. Fever, diarrhoea, eye and skin infections are common. UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund] and other agencies are bringing in vaccines and other supplies to combat the spread of disease,” she added.

A Boeing 747 jumbo jet chartered by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) landed today in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, with 94 metric tons of high energy biscuits from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy. A planeload of 94 additional tons is expected within days.

Yesterday, WFP launched a three-month regional air operation with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to transport humanitarian workers and aid to regions in Somalia and Kenya that have been cut off by the floods. More than 1 million people have been affected in the two countries. Including Ethiopia, the UN puts the total at up to 1.8 million.

“The flooding made many roads impassable so some WFP-contracted trucks are stuck in the mud,” the agency’s Country Director in Kenya Burkard Oberle said. “These biscuits are an immediate response to the worst-hit survivors.”

The aid will be enough for an estimated 100,000 refugees at the Dadaab camps and another 100,000 flood-affected Kenyans for three days. A WFP-chartered helicopter today flew agency and Kenyan Government teams from Nairobi for a three-day on-the-ground assessment of needs in areas that cannot be reached by road.

The floods have displaced more than 100,000 of the estimated 160,000 mainly Somali refugees in Dadaab. UNHCR has airlifted in thousands of plastic sheets to help rebuild shelters, 28 emergency health kits, nearly 15,000 litres of fuel for vehicles and generators that power water pumps, offices, hospitals and clinics, and hundreds of shovels to fill sandbags to shore up flood defences.

UNICEF has only managed to reach about 35 per cent of the 37,000 malnourished Kenyan children left by the earlier drought and is now looking at the prospect of bringing aid via boats, tractors, airdrops and helicopters, spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said.

The rains have also dislodged landmines seeded in Somalia’s long-running strife, posing additional hazards. Mr. Bociurkiw estimated that UNICEF would need well over $7 million in Somalia alone to provide aid to a projected 1 million flood victims.

The senior UN envoy to Somalia, who returned from a visit yesterday to the troubled nation, urged the international community to respond generously to requests for aid from agencies and flood victims.

Francois Lonsény Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said members of the country’s transitional Government voiced concern to him that too little relief was reaching people in dire need.

“It was also clear to me flying over northern Kenya and southern Somalia yesterday that the extent of flooding is beyond anything seen in Somalia in many years,” he said in a press release. “In the past six weeks, most parts of the country have already received more than 300 per cent of their normal rainfall.”