At least 60 people have been killed and around 120,000 displaced after weeks of devastating floods caused by torrential rains in the west African country of Benin, officials say.
Unicef, other UN agencies, and NGOs have launched huge relief operations in response to the deluge that has affected two-thirds of the country since late September.
“[The floods] have destroyed homes, schools and health centres. The flood crisis now affects a total of more than 358,000 people,” Unicef said in a statement.
“Following a joint rapid assessment to evaluate the most pressing humanitarian needs, the agencies have taken action in priority areas such as water and sanitation, health, nutrition and shelter.”
Many of the those made homeless by the floods had to resort to building themselves makeshift houses by the roadside because they had nowhere to go.
”With the incessant rain, my house is flooded and I don’t know how to cope with my kids. We are living in the inundated house,” Beta Avlessi, a flood victim in the western city of Guinzin, said.
“We are going to die, please come and rescue us.”
The floods have destroyed around 25,000 hectares of land, wiping out 40 per cent of the country’s production of rice, maize, millet and other staples.
They have also brought water-borne diseases. Seven people have died out of the around 800 cases of cholera, while malaria, which thrives in the wet conditions, has also claimed lives.
“With the most recent cases inland and with the cases of cholera, we have already reached around 60,” Franck Kinninvo, the country’s interior ministry spokesman, said.
Unicef said it was moving quickly to address the spread of water-borne diseases.
“Unicef has so far provided 262,000 water-purification tablets, 15 water tanks, 1,000 water containers, 250 latrines and other supplies to flood-affected communities in Seme Podji and Cotonou, Benin’s largest city,” it said in a statement.
“Unicef has also distributed nutrition supplies – including therapeutic milk and a high-protein, ready-to-eat paste – to help prevent malnutrition among affected children and women.
The United Nations has issued a $8m appeal for Benin to the Central Emergency Response Fund, a humanitiarian fund established by the world body.
Seasonal floods are common in Benin, a small country of about eight million people, but this year they have been exceptionally serious.
“Every year for some time our homes are inundated but this year is particularly serious,” Germain Ananou, a Guinzin resident said.
“We have nowhere to go and because we live in this water we are subjected to insect bites, mainly mosquitos and also reptiles escaping the water are bothering us.”
The European Union had launched an $25m clean-up programme for Benin’s economic centre Cotonou, a major port hub between West Africa and Europe. But so far donors had only provided 10 per cent of aid needs, according to authorities.