Floods affect tens of thousands

Tens of thousands of people have been affected by flooding in parts of central, eastern and southern Chad following heavy rains in August. Thousands of hectares of crops and hundreds of houses have also been destroyed.

The floods have caused at least 13 deaths, affected 445,725 people and inundated about 255,720 hectares of cropland, according to a 3 September update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some 73,412 houses have also been destroyed.

The flooding is occurring at a time when Chad is still grappling with food insecurity.

In late August, residents and officials in an affected area of the Mouraye Department, in the south-eastern region of Salamat, told medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that "this year's flooding in the area, although having lasted a shorter time than the flooding in 2010, is much more serious due to the extension of the floodwaters and the impact on crops," Stefano Argenziano, the head of Mission of MSF in Chad, told IRIN.

The flooding there occurred after the Bahr Azoum wadi, a river, breached its banks, affecting around 4,000 people in 37 different villages, according to the local authorities of the Mouraye Department.

At present, all families previously displaced in the Mouraye area have returned home. But about 3,000 hectares of maize and 170 hectares of rice there have been flooded for at least two weeks, Argenziano said, noting that residents had told MSF that the already precarious food-security situation there may be aggravated well into 2013 by the destruction of crops.

"We are concerned that Mouraye Department will continue to be [in] a food insecure/food crisis context even after the expected end of the current hunger gap," he said. MSF is monitoring the nutrition situation there, with a rapid nutritional screening of 808 children aged 6-59 months old revealing malnutrition rates below the emergency threshold.

Overall, the floods have affected 5.83 percent of the area sown, according to the National Office for Rural Development. Affected areas include five districts of the capital N'Djamena, as well the Dar-Sila, Salamat, Moyen-Chari, Tandjilé, Eastern Mayo-Kebbi and Western Mayo-Kebbi regions, Mayanne Munan, the Advocacy Manager at Oxfam in Chad, told IRIN. In eastern Mayo-Kebbi, 81,000 ha of crops have been inundated.

"Although it is still early to distinguish between flooded crops and destroyed ones, the floods will definitely have an impact on food security in Chad and part of the 2012 harvests could be ruined. Moreover, as the rainy season is not yet finished, additional heavy rains could worsen the situation," said Munan.

"Besides, there are threats of locusts in the northeast and eastern parts of Chad, which is another risk of crop destruction. Such disasters could have serious consequences in a country that is currently facing a food crisis, with 3.6 million people being affected by food insecurity, and still vulnerable due to previous food crises and recurrent shocks in the past few years [floods, cholera]."

Already, swarms of locusts are breeding in the north of Mali and Niger, a situation that could endanger the livelihoods of up to 50 million people in the region.

Flood affected residents are in need of items such as cooking kits, blankets, mosquito nets and emergency shelter materials as well sensitization about cholera and malaria, Munan added. Waterborne diseases, such as cholera, are endemic in some of the West and Central African countries, often peaking during the rainy season between August and December.

In Kerfi, in Dar-Sila Region, Oxfam hopes to resume its food vouchers distribution activities in three of the 12 affected village when access is possible.

Maigua Kanja, country director of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in Chad, told IRIN, that the floods have affected the availability of flights to areas in need with access difficult even by car as roads have been washed away. "When there is totally no transportation, activities like food distribution are slowed down as some of the important materials like soap have to be air-lifted in bits."

HIAS is working in six refugee camps in the east providing trauma counselling, legal advice and humanitarian assistance.

According to Kanja, the flooding, which has been accompanied by cold weather and stagnant water, also poses a health risk especially to the elderly.

"Most of the beneficiaries [also] travel long distances during the rainy season to look for cultivatable land away from the flooding areas. Most are women who can fall victim [to] drowning in the rivers, rape or even other physical aggressions," she said adding that local traders should be supported to have warehouses where they can stockpile relief material for use in the rainy season.

Chad's government is to allocate 1 billion FCFA (about US $ 2 million) for emergency assistance and has asked for help from humanitarian actors and donors. Assessment missions are also on going to update current data on the humanitarian needs.

aw/rz