Hundreds of thousands of people in West Africa are struggling with floods brought on by unusually heavy seasonal rains. The death toll is 400, with some 1.5 million people displaced, according to United Nations Radio.
The nation of Benin, wedged between Togo and Nigeria, has been especially hard hit, with 680,000 of its 9 million people reportedly affected. The torrential downpours, more than twice the normal amount this time of year, have caused a level of flooding that far exceeds what the population is used to.
An alarming number of cholera infections have been recorded, and sanitation has become a preeminent concern, according to SOS Children’s Villages, which has been in Benin for 23 years. Thousands of displaced people have taken shelter in public buildings, while access to clean water is restricted or non-existent. The floods have led to contamination of water used for drinking and cooking.
Health officials say that an outbreak of water-borne diseases, to which children are especially vulnerable, is likely.
Francois Bellet, a UNICEF water and sanitation expert, told United Nations Radio, “Our main concern is that people go back to their destroyed villages and start using the damaged wells which are contaminated. There’s a high risk of child mortality and of an epidemic.”
Many clinics across the country have been inundated and therefore are unable to function, according to the IRIN news service. This situation limits the care available to help people suffering from diarrhea and water-related infections.
Benin is a poor country whose residents have low literacy rates. According to UNICEF statistics, 47 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Poverty and limited education often exacerbate public health problems caused by natural disasters such as floods.
SOS Children’s Villages on Site to Provide Emergency Assistance
SOS Children’s Villages will launch an emergency relief program in Benin to support 500 children and families affected by the floods. SOS efforts will focus on flood victims in the town of Bonou, in southeastern Benin. In this area crops were destroyed, houses damaged, and livestock decimated. SOS will provide basic necessities such as food, drinking water, mosquito nets, blankets, tents, and medical supplies.
For more information, please visit SOS Children’s Villages.
photo credit: SOS Children's Villages
By Kyna Rubin, SOS Children's Villages