West African floods swamp Benin

2010-10-20 18:02

Cotonou – Families sleep by the roadside under shelter made of scrap wood and metal, their homes destroyed by the rains in Benin – the country seen as the hardest-hit by West African floods this rainy season.

"I had two children who died by drowning on October 2 after the rain that hit Cotonou," said Delphine Behanzin, 37, as she sat in the shade. "I'm lost. They were my reason to live."

Floods have hit a wide swathe of West and Central Africa in recent months, destroying entire villages and killing more than 100 people in Nigeria alone. Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger are among the other nations affected.

The UN says 377 people have died in the flooding, with nearly 1.5 million people affected since the start of the rainy season in June.

But UN officials say the small nation of Benin, a country of some 8.8 million people, has been dealt the hardest blow.

Some 43 people have died, while about 360 000 have been affected, according to the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Nearly 100 000 people have been left homeless.

Two thirds affected

Almost two-thirds of the nation has been hit by flooding, according to a statement issued by the UN which said the humanitarian situation was "becoming increasingly worrying".

A recent survey of the city of Cotonou, the economic capital, and of the country's south by helicopter showed "that the crisis has been underestimated", according to the statement.

Aid officials have rushed to provide clean water and emergency shelter, while further outbreaks of cholera are also feared. There have already been some 800 cases, including seven deaths.

The Vossa neighbourhood of Cotonou is located in a low-lying area, but many of those who lost their homes have set up temporary shelter there anyway, including Behanzin, whose two children were five and two years old.

"What is feared in the coming days is that we face either a malaria epidemic or cholera cases," said Paulin Houenassi, a doctor with Benin's Red Cross.

"The relocation zones that they have chosen are unsanitary and infested with mosquitoes."

Heavy rains

Heavy rains have hit Benin this season, and the Oueme river has overflowed its banks at a number of locations.

Cotonou is located at the river's mouth, and makeshift camps have sprouted along the city's edge in recent weeks, though the city centre has not been affected.

Aicha, 26, said the rains destroyed her small fruit-selling business and aid has been slow to arrive.

"The aid that people say is being distributed hasn't reached us and nobody hears our calls for help," she said.

Aid organisations acknowledge they face logistical problems in distributing aid, indicating that Benin does not have a sufficient stock of emergency supplies on hand.

Food and equipment supplies, however, have been ordered through a UN regional office in nearby Ghana, said Kemoral Jadjombaye of OCHA. Deliveries should be sent to Cotonou later this week, he said.