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ETHIOPIA: Rains pound Somali region as death toll rises

ADDIS ABABA, 5 May 2005 (IRIN) - The death toll from devastating floods that have hit eastern Ethiopia rose to 154 as heavy rains continued to hamper relief efforts, officials said on Wednesday.

More than 150,000 had been affected by floodwaters and torrential rains that continued to pound the Somali region for a second week, officials added. Ten of thousands of livestock had also been killed.

"The rains are continuing and the flooding is continuing," Remedan Haji Ahmed, who heads the government's emergency response in the area, told IRIN.

"In the last 24 hours, five people have died," he added. "There are still large areas that are cut off and now we are getting outbreaks of diseases like malaria and diarrhoea."

The UN said access to some of the affected villages had been hindered because they were located in areas that had remained cut off.

The death toll was expected to rise further as many people had remained missing 10 days after the flooding began, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a situation report issued on Wednesday.

Some areas were also unable to report damage yet because of communication problems. "It is expected that the number of people affected will continue to increase, especially if rains continue," the report said.

According to OCHA, the movement of crocodiles and snakes out of the water had also caused difficulties to the people, especially the children.

Ahmed said thousands of people remained homeless as the heavy rains and severe flooding had affected most of the nine districts in the remote region.

"This is the worst flood for 40 years," he added. "Although we had severe flooding in 2003, it did not affect as many areas or kill as many people."

Simon Mechale, the head of the national Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission, told reporters that the government had mobilised helicopters to get aid to survivors.

"It is a very difficult operation, but I think in the end we managed to distribute some aid to ease the difficult situation in these areas," he said.

Four areas in the region, he added, were completely cut off. OCHA said Afder, Gode and Jijiga zones were particularly affected.

Aid workers reported that food, plastic sheeting and clean water were beginning to get through to survivors, but that more was needed to prevent diseases from spreading.

Weather forecasters were predicting continued thunderstorms in the rain-battered region, some 700 km southeast of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

On 23 April, the Wabe Shebelle River in the eastern Somali region burst its banks after two days of heavy rains, crashing through 160 villages and sweeping families away.

At least 24 of the flood victims were children, many of whom were swept away while sleeping. Crocodiles had also eaten 19 people, officials said.

The Somali region usually suffers from severe droughts, with average rainfall of a little over 250 mm a year. However, flooding occurs at this time of the year when the rains begin. In 2003, 119 people died in the last major floods in Ethiopia.

Theme (s): Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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