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With over 3 million at risk from East African floods, UN steps up airdrops, fundraising

With over 3 million at risk from East African floods, UN steps up airdrops, fundraising

With up to 1.8 million East Africans already at risk of infectious diseases and malnutrition from some of the worst flooding in recent memory, a figure than could top 3 million by the end of the month, United Nations agencies today stepped up their relief operations, from airdrops of critical supplies to appeals for emergency funding.

“The floods are expected to continue until at least the end of December if not into early next year,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Kenya David Okello warned. “We are already experiencing a serious situation where people are dying from diseases related to the water and sanitation situation. Malaria will become a very serious problem in the weeks to come.”

A combination of displacement, living in crowding conditions, lack of safe water and the destruction of sanitation systems is putting 1.5 to 1.8 million people at risk of cholera, measles and malaria as well as nutrition deficiencies in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

The three countries share similar health profiles. In Ethiopia, some 40,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported, including over 400 deaths. In Somalia, 100 cases have occurred, particularly in children under five. Insecurity in Somalia is escalating and people fleeing the conflict are seeking refuge in Kenya. This will sharply increase the number of people living in camps, and the potential for health risks, WHO warned.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today launched an appeal for $24.2 million to address the immediate needs of the flood victims, warning that with more rain on the way the number of those directly affected could total more than 3 million by the end of December.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that with the help of the United States military it was starting today an emergency airdrop of over 240 tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies, including plastic sheets, blankets and mosquito nets, to thousands of mainly Somali refugees affected by massive flooding in northern Kenya.

“We have been facing serious difficulties in transporting the emergency supplies from Nairobi [the capital] to Dadaab due to poor road conditions,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva, referring to a complex of six camps hosting some 160,000 refugees. “The US military will use a C-130 cargo plane to airdrop the supplies, with 15 rotations planned between today and Wednesday.”

After a five-day break, heavy rain has started falling again in Dadaab, causing new flooding. With the access road cut by the flooding, the only way of getting supplies in has been with small cargo planes. The airdrops are needed as the airstrip cannot take the weight of a C-130.

WHO is ensuring a stockpile of essential drugs for the treatment of waterborne diseases and laboratory equipment. It is also discussing with the Government of Kenya an immunization campaign against measles.

In Kenya overall, more than 700,000 people have so far been affected, the majority of whom remain unreachable, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs told the Geneva briefing.

The Kenya Red Cross was using small canoes to evacuate those marooned but these were not completely safe on the Tana River where hippopotamus and crocodiles could easily capsize them. UN agencies have approached international donors in Nairobi for assistance for three months.

In Somalia some 444,000 people along the Juba and Shabelle rivers have already been affected. According to the worst case, scenario up to 1 million could be directly affected in the coming weeks, Ms. Byrs said.