Stagnant water hampering aid efforts in flood-hit areas

Water levels are receding in southeast Ethiopia but humanitarian efforts to help thousands of people displaced by floods are being hindered by stagnant water, amid fears of increased risk of water-borne diseases.

About 68 people died and thousands fled their homes in the Somali region after the Wabe Shebelle river burst its banks in early November, washing away livestock and damaging infrastructure, including bridges and roads. The towns of Mustahil and Kelafo, south of Gode, the regional capital, have been worst hit by the floods.

"Inaccessibility to flood-affected areas, particularly Mustahil and Kelafo woredas, is still a challenge; this coupled with a shortage of fuel is hampering the emergency response," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a situation report on Monday.

A total of 145,000 people have been affected in the two woredas, according to OCHA. Approximately 11,000 people were reported displaced in Mustahil. "These areas are still inaccessible by road," the report noted. "Transportation has been partly hampered because of poor road conditions following heavy rains in the region … and several trucks loaded with emergency relief items are stranded due to the floods and heavy rains. Transportation, including helicopters and boats, is among the pressing needs."

So far, 89 percent of the food items sent to the area have been delivered by road from Dire Dawa. A total of 1,980 tonnes of relief food items have been allocated to Mustahil, Gode and Kelafo areas by the government Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency.

The stagnant water and limited access to medicine or healthcare have increased the fear that water-borne diseases might increase in the flooded areas. "High incidences of endemic water diseases, including acute watery diarrhoea, malaria and intestinal parasites are also reported," OCHA says in its humanitarian bulletin, adding that unconfirmed reports of diarrhoea had killed people in the Somali region.

Cases of acute watery diarrhoea had reached 36,342, with 416 deaths in 99 woredas across the country.

Various other agencies are trying to deliver aid. "Right now, there are several operational constraints in trying to mount a humanitarian response to the floods," the UN Children’s Fund [Unicef] said on Wednesday, noting that many bridges and roads had been washed away. "Unicef is working with its partners to deliver non-food items, specifically, water and sanitation supplies, and ready-to-eat food such as fortified biscuits for children."

On Friday, a C-130 Hercules aircraft from the United States Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa flew nearly 48 tonnes of relief supplies from Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa, the capital, to the affected areas. "We’re delivering these supplies at the request of the Ethiopian government," said Marine Maj Phillip Frietze, mission commander for the operation.

In mid-August, at least 639 people were killed when unusually heavy rains triggered massive flooding in the eastern, northern and southern regions of the country. A total of 357,000 people have been affected by the floods, which aid agencies say are the worst in decades. Somalia and neighbouring Kenya have also been hit by flash floods over the past two weeks.