With heavy rains continuing to pound much of Ethiopia, WFP has said that 118,000 people – with hundreds killed or missing – have been hit by devastating floods in the past month and warned that the numbers of displaced, homeless and severely affected could rise further.
Throughout the country, the government and humanitarian groups, including WFP, are racing against the clock to deliver supplies and assistance to the people who are suffering
Abnezer Ngowi, WFP Acting Country Director in Ethiopia
Although floods are relatively common during the June to September rainy season in Ethiopia, this year the country has experienced some of the heaviest and most intense on record, with water levels rising to critical levels at three dams in the west, south and north, where local residents have been advised to leave.
WFP, together with other humanitarian partners, has provided 37.5 metric tons of grain, 1.1 ton of vegetable oil, 4 metric tons of pulses and 50 cartons of biscuits and supplementary food for distribution to those affected.
The food assistance, together with non-food items, has already been dispatched to four locations where survivors are temporarily sheltered.
“Throughout the country, the government and humanitarian groups, including WFP, are racing against the clock to deliver supplies and assistance to the people who are suffering,” said Abnezer Ngowi, WFP Acting Country Director in Ethiopia. “This is a race which must be won because so many lives are at stake.”
“We have distributed food and assigned staff to nearly all the affected areas throughout the country and are supporting the government and our partners in coordination and relief efforts. The scale of this crisis is huge – the magnitude and impact remains to be seen,” said Ngowi.
The Omo River has already burst its banks and flooded large swathes of land in the south west, some 800 kilometres south of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Thousands of people are marooned and encircled by flood waters in isolated areas along the Omo River valley, following flooding which has killed more than 300 people and washed away almost 3,000 livestock.
Earlier flash floods in Dire Dawa killed 254 people, and with many still missing, the national death toll may rise.
Since search and rescue efforts began in south Omo on 15 August, 1,300 people have been rescued, but lashing rain and devastated infrastructure have hampered relief efforts.
National army personnel have been deployed to assist and boats and helicopters are on the scene, airlifting survivors and dropping food and clean water to those people they can reach.
Of mounting concern is also the situation in Amhara region, northern Ethiopia, where 20,000 people have apparently been affected by flood waters from Lake Tana. Some 10,000 of these are camped in temporary shelters.
The government has assembled a rapid assessment team, including a field monitor from the WFP office in Dessie, to establish the extent of the floods.
The government has also allocated food, plastic sheeting and tents for immediate dispatch to the displaced.
In Dire Dawa, eastern Ethiopia, where 254 people died and many more are still missing, a joint UN, inter-agency and government flash appeal for US$5.82 million has been issued, covering a range of food and non-food items as well as provision for rehabilitating the infrastructure.
Massive humanitarian task
“Funds are urgently needed to allow aid organisations like WFP to undertake additional and much needed food, nutrition, health, sanitation, water, logistics and road interventions,” said Abnezer Ngowi.
“We must concentrate on the massive humanitarian task ahead,” he said.
American soldiers from a US military base in neighbouring Djibouti arrived in Dire Dawa at the weekend to assist the emergency services in the post-flood operations.
The government has also appealed to the international community to provide urgent search and rescue assistance in the form of helicopters and motor boats.
With more rains predicted over the coming weeks, WFP has warned that the crisis is still far from over.
The Ethiopian government and military have stepped up the evacuation of scores of people from flood-prone, low-lying areas to higher ground.
The government is also standing by to release some of the excess water already in the Koka Dam on the Awash River in the east, and in the Tise Aby Dam on the Blue Nile River, in northern Ethiopia.
Flood waters are also spilling over from the Gilgel Gibe Dam on the Omo River.