An aid airlift from Denmark is being planned for about 680,000 affected by flooding in the West African state of Benin, authorities and UN officials have said.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the agency "is expecting to begin an emergency airlift" in days. At least 60 people have been killed by the floods.

Edwards said that while the UNHCR's normal work in Benin was with the refugee and asylum-seeking population of some 7,300, "we have been called upon to help with the emergency shelter needs of some of the homeless people in southern parts of the country where we have a presence".

"As of today the focus is on making arrangements for the reception, storage and distribution of our relief items," he said, adding that the rising number of people affected in the small country of 8.8  million was "of clear concern to all of us".

"We plan to initially airlift some 3,000 tents from our emergency stockpile in Copenhagen."

Food production has also been badly hit by the floods.

Franck Kinninvo, the interior ministry spokesman, confirmed the death toll, which officials said could shoot up.

"With the most recent cases inland and with the cases of cholera, we have already reached around 60 [deaths]," he said of the rains which have flooded main rivers.

The UNHCR has already been providing tents and mosquito nets from more limited stockpiles in the region, Edwards said.

"We are also providing  logistical support to our partners for their transportation needs while reinforcing our staff presence."

Funds appeal planned   

While seasonal heavy rains have been lashing West Africa for several months, Benin had experienced flooding "well beyond normal".
  
"Fifty-five out of the country's 77 districts are affected," Edwards said.

Elisabeth Byrs of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said an appeal for funds and aid was being planned.
  
Experts had assessed needs for fresh water and purification measures, food and shelter, she added.
  
A cholera outbreak has added to the misery, with 800 cases counted across Benin, Kemoral Jadjombaye, another OCHA official, said.
  
Aid organisations acknowledge they face logistical problems in distributing assistance, indicating that Benin does not have a sufficient stock of emergency supplies on hand.
  
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.

Source: Agencies