TOGO: Floods kill at least 17, cut off access to some 60,000 people

Friday, September 7, 2007

Flooding has killed at least 17 people and displaced more than 7,000 in recent days in the Savanes region of northeastern Togo, which recent UN studies say is the country's poorest region with "alarming" rates of child malnutrition.

Most of the people who died either drowned or were crushed when their houses collapsed, health workers said. “We saw the case of one child who died when the wall of his house collapsed onto him and his mother,” Gaspard Fletou, a nurse at the hospital in Mandouri, the main town in the affected area, told IRIN.

Floods washed out roads and bridges, completely cutting access to about half of Kpendjal prefecture, which has a population of some 123,000, UN and government sources told IRIN.

Other prefectures affected are Oti, Tône and Tandjouaré. The area is some 600km from the Togolese capital, Lome. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) puts the number of displaced at 7,167, but assessments on displacements as well as infrastructure and crop damage are ongoing, officials said.

Government officials in Kpendjal in a report issued on 3 September said many villages are cut off from major health centres and commercial activity. The destruction of crops “will cause great suffering for the population”, the report said. It also said, “chicken farms are washed away; it’s a disaster.”

“The worst case to fear,” the report said, “is that food shortages will lead the area’s workforce to migrate, abandoning the elderly, women and children in misery.”

Kpendjal prefecture shares a border with Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north.

Local officials and health workers in the Savanes region said people in the flood-affected areas urgently need tents, food, water, medicines, mosquito nets, salt, petrol and matches.

The Togolese Red Cross is helping to distribute food and non-food items in the area. It is also dispatching its local volunteers to educate communities about hygiene and the prevention of waterborne illnesses, Lassissi Aremu, Savanes regional coordinator for the Red Cross, told IRIN.

Government gives initial aid

President Faure Gnassingbe began visiting the affected areas by helicopter on 4 September and his government is providing initial relief supplies including food, medicines and blankets, sources in the area told IRIN. But health workers said that given the number of people affected and the threat of waterborne illnesses, more supplies will be needed in the coming days.

“We will be overwhelmed,” Health Minister Charles Kondi Agba told IRIN by phone from the Savanes region. Agba said the health ministry has brought an initial stock of anti-malarial drugs and mosquito nets to the affected area, as well as medicines for waterborne illnesses like cholera and diarrhea, but the needs are likely to mount.

“We’ll have to ask the international community for help,” he said.

Agba said that fortunately the government carried out a yellow fever vaccination campaign in the region earlier in the year.

Felidji Sandani, a doctor based in Lome who was working in the Savanes region when the floods hit, said three people recently died of malaria in Kpendjal and cases have risen in recent days.

He said the government has provided a motorised barge for emergency evacuations from the part of Kpendjal cut off to land access.

Officials evaluating the Savanes region said they saw vast areas of crops that had been destroyed but that the exact number of hectares is not yet known. “Water swallowed up a lot of plantations,” Nam Pakedame, regional director of planning in Savanes, told IRIN.

The UN in Togo is asking UN agencies in other parts of West Africa for supplies, UNICEF deputy representative in Togo, Narcisse Demedeiros, told IRIN from the Savanes region. The supplies include water, water-purifying tablets, soap, first-aid kits, oral rehydration products and blankets, he said.

Vulnerable communities

The flooding comes as UNICEF and the World Food Programme prepare to launch a programme to provide therapeutic and supplemental foods to children in the Savanes region, where UNICEF says 32 percent of children under five suffer acute malnutrition.

“It will take much more work now,” Demedeiros said, adding that if the rains continue, the UN and its humanitarian partners in the region might have to obtain a canoe for transporting health workers and monitors for the project.

UN studies in 2006 showed that 62.7 percent of people in the Savanes region do not have access to adequate food and 32 percent of children under five suffer acute malnutrition.

The flooding comes just weeks before the official start of the school year, 17 September. “Students in the area will not have school supplies,” the Kpendjal authorities said in their report. “And their parents – hit by this catastrophe – will not be motivated to put their school-age children in school, given all the unforeseen expenses they now face, including rebuilding their homes.”

Source: IRIN