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General News of Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Floods: Concerns over sanitary & food

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is particularly concerned about the sanitary and food security situation of populations in the north east of Ghana, affected by the continuous and exceptional rains that began in mid-July. The rains have left at least 30 people dead, either when their mud houses collapsed on them, or from drowning or acute watery diarrhea.

The International Federation has launched a preliminary emergency appeal for 1.46 million Swiss francs (US$ 1.2 million / Euro 890,000) to support the Ghana Red Cross Society's operation to help flooding victims. The disaster, however, is regional in scope, with extensive, recurrent and devastating flooding now affecting 17 African countries, most of them in Western Africa, with Burkina Faso and Togo particularly hard-hit by the latest rains. This appeal will be adjusted into a regional floods appeal.

"We are concerned about reports of increasing cases of cholera and watery diarrhea, of rising numbers of black flies – which cause onchocerciasis, or river blindness, and the fact that flooding has contaminated wells and destroyed latrines," explains Niels Scott, Operations coordinator for Africa at the International Federation's Secretariat in Geneva. "These conditions are a serious threat to the health of the populations in the flooded zones, greatly increasing the risk of water-borne disease epidemics and malaria. They are compounded by difficult access to health structures, due to the widespread destruction of roads and bridges."

According to reports from initial assessments carried out by the authorities and regional Red Cross teams, more than 350,000 people in 800 communities have been affected, more than 100,000 are displaced, some 110,000 hectares of farmland and crops have been washed away, as well as grain and food stocks and livestock.

"With the next harvest in May 2008, it is imperative these populations receive longer term assistance in the form of seeds and farming tools, in order to avoid possible famines or chronic malnutrition," adds Niels Scott.

Hundreds of Ghana Red Cross volunteers and staff have been mobilized over the past weeks in all the affected communities. They are providing first aid, helping evacuate people to higher ground, assisting them in salvaging whatever belongings they can. They are also distributing relief items provided by the authorities and giving out essential health and hygiene information on how to prevent the spread of diseases caused by drinking polluted water.

The operation covered by the appeal aims at assisting some 60,000 people for the next six months. The funds will be used to provide the most vulnerable families with tarpaulins, kitchen sets, jerry cans, blankets, soap, candles and water purification products and will fund health education activities.