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IRAQ: Thousands forced out by floods

BAGHDAD, 21 November 2006 (IRIN) - Heavy rains, thunderstorms and enormous mudslides in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region have submerged vast areas and made nearly 3,000 families homeless, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) said on Tuesday.

Those affected blame the government for not heeding their repeated calls for better housing.

"We warned both the central and regional governments many times that we are vulnerable in these houses and demanded for their urgent help," said Haji Kemeran Ali, a 66-year-old farmer who is now living in a small tent with his eight-member family in Sulaimaniyah.

Mazin Abdullah Salom, an IRCS spokesman in Baghdad, told IRIN that nearly 3,000 families, about 18,000 individuals, had been forced to flee their demolished homes in the Dahuk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah governorates because of flash floods that began on 25 October and went on until early November.

Salom added that these people were now living in camps and that IRCS volunteers had distributed aid to them, including food, tents, blankets, jerry-cans, heaters, mattresses, clothes, carpets, detergents and shoes.

The International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) in Iraq said that at least 20 people were killed and dozens injured in the floods while infrastructure was severely damaged.

"Bridges, houses, and schools were flattened; hydropower stations were destroyed; livestock was decimated; thousands of fruit trees were washed away and agricultural land was made unusable," the ICRC said in a statement.

"It is a desperate situation for those who lost all their basic means of a livelihood. Much more assistance will be required in order to come back to normal life,” said Hans Peter Giess, the ICRC relief coordinator who visited some of the most affected areas and met with villagers.

The affected families were poor farmers and were living on mountain cliffs in poorly constructed houses, mainly made of mud or wood, he said. With low and limited income, housing has become a serious problem for many local residents in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.

"They [central and regional governments] have turned deaf ears to our calls. They have to do something for us. They have to stop putting money into just their pockets and they have to stop forgetting poor people," said farmer Ali, who lost his one-storey house and all his cattle.

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Theme (s): Environment, Refugees/IDPs,

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

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