Update No. 97/02 on ICRC activities to assist flood victims in Somalia and Ethiopia
19-11-1997 Operational Update
Heavy rainfalls continue throughout the region and rising water levels continue to menace those in low-lying areas of land. Up to 50,000 hectares of farm land have been flooded in Somalia leaving thousands of people trapped on small patches of dry ground. As highlighted in last week's update (13 November), an operation to rescue the thousands of people in a life-threatening situation would require substantial logistical intervention well above the means of humanitarian agencies. Following negotiations involving the ICRC, the French Government has sent four experts from its sécurité civile team to the region on an assessment mission.
Some 1,300 people are thought to have lost their lives and a further estimated 800,000 people are affected by the floods in Somalia alone. In addition to those immediately under threat from high water levels, very many more people lack basic shelter materials and food. In order to address this problem, the ICRC, using its pre-existing logistical set-up and specialist knowledge of Somalia and Ethiopia, has undertaken to assist over 235,000 people with emergency food and non-food supplies.
Given the ongoing impact of food shortages on the region's rural and urban populations and the long-term consequences of the floods throughout Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, the ICRC will continue to coordinate relief operations with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, local National Societies and with other humanitarian agencies.
IMMEDIATE ICRC RESPONSE
Deliveries of basic shelter items and emergency food supplies continue to those families most in need. High-energy biscuits were chosen for their low bulk (and hence, ease of transport), substantial nutritional value and because lack of dry fuel makes cooking virtually impossible.
(See table below for details.)
Whilst relief operations have been hampered by the heavy rains, the ICRC has managed to complete its planned assistance to Bardera and Buale and is hoping to airlift a final plane-load of food assistance to Luuq shortly. Food shortages around Jilib are thought to be severe and ICRC staff are currently evaluating the level and type of assistance required for some 8,200 target families in the region. Similar problems are reported by a further ICRC officer in Gadude. An aerial survey shows that the ICRC's food assistance convoy is approximately 60 km from the town and the local population is now attempting to make parts of the flooded road passable.
In addition to food and non-food assistance, the ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) have set up a health post for 25,000 displaced people on the outskirts of Belet Huen. Main complaints registered so far have been upper respiratory-tract infections, malaria and diarrhoea. A comparison with figures from the same period last year indicates only a slight increase in the cases of diarrhoea. However, the situation is being thoroughly monitored as the risk of epidemics is high.
The regional government, the Disaster Prevention Preparedness Commission (DPPC) and Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) have established a task force to draft a plan of action and to coordinate assistance to Gode, an area particularly hard-hit by the floods. During various assessment missions by air, the EDF and DPPC have distributed food grains, high-energy biscuits and plastic sheeting. The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) has been enlisted as a full partner in the task force and its representative attends the daily meetings with the additional support of an ICRC delegate.
Through the ERCS, the ICRC plans to distribute 10,000 blankets, 5,000 jerrycans, 40,000 square metres of plastic sheeting and 5,000 cooking pots to 25,000 people within the next few days. Some medical supplies (dispensary and paediatric sets, dressing material) are available but will remain in store until adequate supervision structures are established as part of the medical task force soon to be established by the Department of Health.
In the short term, the ICRC and the ERCS will continue to encourage the task force to provide necessary food and housing requirements and access to safe drinking water.
The following table shows assistance delivered and the number of beneficiaries (five people per family) targeted in areas surveyed by the ICRC up to date.
ICRC SOMALIA FLOOD DELIVERIES (07.11.97 to 18.11.97)
delivered by airlift
On convoys from Mogadishu (Biscuits airlifted from Nairobi to Mogadishu
MEDIUM AND LONG-TERM NEEDS
Plans are being drawn up to provide sorghum, sesame and vegetable seeds for up to 200,000 people in Somalia and 50,000 in Ethiopia so that planting can be carried out as soon as possible after the water recedes.
Provisions for veterinary supplies are being made for pastoralist sections of the community who have lost livestock or whose herds are highly vulnerable to diseases.
Exposure to rain and cold, lack of adequate food and safe drinking water all increase the incidence of infectious diseases. In parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, water systems have been flooded and contaminated by overflowing toilets and dead animals providing potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes in an area already prone to malaria, dysentery, cholera and typhoid fever outbreaks.
Part of the problem is already being addressed by the ICRC's in its deliveries of shelter, high-energy biscuits and, wherever possible, medical supplies (see table above). Basic medical assistance will allow the SRCS and local health staff to cope with the influx of patients and to provide curative services until regular supporting systems are up and running.
Medium to long-term assistance is difficult to quantify at present but should become a little clearer following meetings with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF over the next few days. ICRC assistance will be based on the following criteria: presence of local medical staff, presence of medical structure (if one does not exist, temporary health posts will need to be opened) and coverage by other organizations. This close coordination with different international actors in Nairobi will avoid any duplication of efforts, and allow better supervision and monitoring.
Water and Sanitation
In the short term, water and sanitation activities must focus on the displaced. This will involve providing temporary latrines, providing safe drinking water and ensuring insect-control measures in the event of an epidemic. An assessment mission to Belet Huen has just been completed with a view to setting up such a programme there.
Once the water has receded and people return to their villages, efforts will have to be made to ensure continued access to safe water. Whilst some wells have been protected, many hand-dug wells will have been flooded and clogged with mud. In this case, mobile ICRC/SRCS teams plan to carry out disinfection programmes using motorized de-watering pumps and water-treatment chemicals. It is anticipated that such programmes could take up to two months to complete; in the meantime, water points or water purification machines will need to be installed in the villages concerned.
Of the 23 expatriates working in Somalia, 11 are from National Societies (three Germans, three Australians, two Dutch, one Norwegian, one British and one Danish).
Three National Society staff from Australia, France and Britain make up part of the 28-strong expatriate team in Ethiopia.