Warning of disaster as 40 die in southern floods

The death toll in the severe floods that have hit southern Ethiopia has now topped 40 - including five children, officials told IRIN on Thursday.

More than 95,000 people have been forced to flee their homes after the Wabe Shebelle river burst its banks, flooding dozens of villages.

Crocodiles also attacked and killed four people during the flooding, said Mines Minister Mohamoud Dirir Gheddi, who is also chairman of the ruling Somali People’s Democratic Party in the region.

“Unless something is done soon, this will turn into a disaster,” Mohamoud told IRIN. “I believe that the magnitude of the crisis means we have to airlift food, medical equipment and personnel to help and in that case we need the international community.”

He said the region desperately needs medical help to control waterborne diseases. Blankets are also required for displaced families.

“You can expect malaria and cholera outbreaks unless something is done," he told IRIN.

He was speaking after visiting the affected areas, along with the president of the region, Abdulreshid Dulene.

“Many of those who died are people who could not escape, like children and elders,” he added, saying that boats were now being taken to the flood area.

The worst-affected areas, he said, include Kalafo, Mustahil and Imi – the last two have been totally submerged.

Rescue workers are now battling to bring relief food and medical equipment to families hit by the floods. An Ethiopian army helicopter has also been commandeered to bring in medical supplies.