Monday, August 21, 2006

AU appeals for help for flood-stricken Ethiopia

IRIN report via Reuters 21 Aug 2006:
The African Union (AU) on Monday appealed to its member states and the rest of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of Ethiopians affected by flash floods that followed heavy rainfall.

The AU announced it was donating US $100,000 to the government to help it respond to the floods, which have displaced an estimated 10,000 people and left hundreds dead. Flooding first hit Dire Dawa city in southern Ethiopia earlier this month, killing hundreds. Then the Omo River burst its banks at the same time as rivers in Tigray, Amhara and Oromia regions.

Police Inspector Daniel Gezahegne, the public relations officer in the Southern Nations Police Commission, told IRIN that efforts were continuing to rescue thousands of marooned villagers along the Omo River. Rescuers had saved about 1,300 using boats and helicopters, he added.

"In the past five days rescuers were able to save about 1,300 people. There are still thousands stranded by the flood. The weather is good today [Monday] and we hope to save more people," said Gezahegne. Some people were, however, reluctant to leave because they did not want to abandon their livestock. "They are telling the rescuers that they can't survive without their cattle. But we are trying to convince them to be relocated to safe places," he added.

Sisay Tadesse, the public relations officer with the Federal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA), said the government continued using helicopters and boats to deliver humanitarian aid to those affected. "Various United Nations agencies and NGOs are participating in delivering humanitarian assistance to the affected people there," he added.

Floods are common during the June-September rainy season in Ethiopia

The country's National Meteorological Agency has forecast more heavy rains, indicating that more rivers could soon overflow.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the immediate needs included search and rescue support, including boats, helicopters and life jackets. Helicopters could not fly most of the time due to bad weather, but they were essential to guiding boats to stranded people and dry land, the agency said in its latest update on the situation. The DPPA had also requested food and non-food items to fill the immediate humanitarian gap, according to OCHA. The DPPA was responding to both the food and non-food needs, with support from the UN World Food Programme and UN Children's Fund, it added.