Flooding in West Africa puts lives at risk, says UN health agency

Flooding in West Africa puts lives at risk, says UN health agency

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International aid is urgently needed to reduce the risk to millions of lives in danger across West Africa due to the effects of flooding, the United Nations health agency warned today.

Rising flood water and heavy rains forecasted to continue until September are exacerbating the threat of potentially deadly conditions including malaria, diarrhoea and other fatal communicable diseases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement.

Flood conditions are also adding to the already dire impact of rising food prices in the area.

“West Africa’s annual floods bring with them not only the threat of vector-borne communicable diseases, but it further endangers the lives of people already malnourished by the food price crisis,” said Assistant Director-General of the WHO’s Health Action in Crises Cluster, Eric Laroche.

Half the children aged under five in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are suffering from severe malnutrition and 10 per cent of them have contracted deadly levels of the disease, according to the statement.

WHO is assessing the health of the vulnerable – particularly children, women and the elderly – as well as providing essential medicines and raising badly needed humanitarian funding.

The agency noted that only 22 per cent of the emergency health funding has been met. Some $418 million was requested in the 2008 Consolidated Appeal for the region, of which $76 million was for emergency health care.

WHO is also supplying clean water, sanitation, mosquito nets, drugs and vaccinations to the almost 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) – with 150,000 IDPs in Benin alone – to reduce the intensified threat of malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections, especially for children.

Widespread flooding in the region has also caused damage to infrastructure vital for the delivery of health services and humanitarian supplies. Bridges, roads and railway lines in Benin, Togo, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso have been damaged, while Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have also been affected.