Thousands affected by heavy flooding in south

Rescue workers were battling against severe floods in southern Ethiopia on Tuesday which left 10 people dead and at least 80,000 stranded.

Thousands were forced from their homes after the main Wabe Shebelle river burst its banks, flooding lowland areas of Somali Regional State. According to humanitarian organisations, the flooding is some of the worst the region has seen in recent memory.

Emergency teams have rushed to the scene with medical supplies, plastic shelters and cooking equipment to help the stricken families, humanitarian organisations told IRIN.

Abdulreshid Dulene, the regional president, has also flown into the affected area in an army helicopter to ensure vital medical equipment reaches those in need.

The towns of Kelafo and Mustahil have been hardest hit by the flooding, following heavy rains in the Bale highlands.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the regional government are transporting emergency medical kits, shelter material and jerry cans from nearby Gode town.

“The situation is very serious and worse than any year before,” UNICEF emergency head Marc Rubin told IRIN. “We are very concerned about the humanitarian situation. They have no food, no clean water and the health service has been destroyed, so we are talking about a serious situation.”

At least five health centres and two schools have been destroyed, and dozens of villages cut off.

The area has been receiving food aid due to the severe drought that has hit some 12.6 million people in the country.

The UN’s World Food Programme, which is in Kelafo, has warned that food needs may have to be reassessed because of the flooding.

But despite the death toll and the destruction, aid agencies acknowledge that the flooding is vital for irrigating the land.

“Flooding is needed in the area for flood-recession agriculture, but there will be an immediate negative impact on the population,” said WFP.

According to the UN’s Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, the basin area around the river has not been flooded for the last two years because the water levels have been too low.

The US government’s Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS) said that the area is likely to suffer from “abnormally heavy rains”.

“Key areas that are likely to see abnormally heavy rains include the western highlands of Kenya, the eastern lowlands of Ethiopia and the neighbouring areas of southern Somalia,” it said.