August 18, 2006

Ethiopia struggles to aid 48,000 marooned by floods

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Helicopters airdropped inflatable
tubes on Friday to stranded Ethiopians wading in flood waters
that have killed nearly 900 people and displaced almost 50,000
across the Horn of Africa nation.

Bad weather and poor access to remote, rural zones have
hampered operations by already overstretched emergency

Since early August, heavy rains have burst rivers and sent
devastating flash floods all around Ethiopia.

The United Nations estimated as many as 48,000 people have
been left homeless. Addis Ababa has appealed for foreign help.

Aid workers said problems with access in the remote south
was the main hindrance to relief efforts in the hardest-hit
region where the Omo River burst its banks on Sunday killing at
least 364 people.

"Lack of access is having a significant impact on the
ability of helicopters to move ... where they are able to fly,
they drop floating tubes," said Vincent Lelei, deputy head of
mission for the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs (OCHA).

"There are many people who are marooned in the water," he
said of an area where anything between 6,000 and 40,000 people
were estimated to be stranded. "It's like groping in the dark."

The United States said it has given $85,000 in humanitarian
relief for flood victims from Dire Dawa, in east Ethiopia,
where the Dechatu River poured out in early August, killing 254
and leaving another 250 missing, feared dead.

Authorities say more rivers in the north, south, east and
west have overflowed, and the country's major dams are filling
to breaking point.

Officials say heavy rains are likely to continue and spread
flooding to other areas as the government began to warn
residents where more flooding is likely to occur.

Flash floods typically happen in the lowland areas when
rains during the June-September rainy season drench Ethiopia's

"For the next two weeks the rains are still intensifying
and the rivers are filling up and rising," Lelei said.

"The likelihood of more flooding is there and the
likelihood of more suffering is there."

Flooding has been exacerbated by land cultivation,
deforestation and overgrazing, aid agencies say.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kimball in Nairobi)