Benin: River flooding prompts fears of malnutrition, disease

from IRIN
Published on 15 Sep 2008
ADJOUHOUN, 15 September 2008 (IRIN) - About 57,000 people in the Oueme river valley community of Adjohoun, 60km east of Cotonou, are threatened with malnutrition and water-born diseases because of river flooding, which has wiped out more than 25,000 hectares of crop land, killed about 30,000 animals, flooded 18,000 homes, and has displaced about 2,000 people according to local authorities.

Only the Awonou community has been spared flooding, thus far.

The river started gradually over-spilling its banks in July 2008 when the season's first storms hit, but did not gather force until about 10 days ago, said Gabriel Assogba from the town council. "Flooding this year has already wiped out our potatoes, corn, beans and leafy greens."

During the rainy season, which typically runs from June to September, the 450-km Oueme river, Benin's longest, typically overflows its banks and floods the agricultural Oueme valley.

'Up to our necks'

Justin Hounkponou, 22-years old, told IRIN there is not much room to move where he lives, "The water has reached our necks in our community of Gangban. Homes are washed out. People have fled to try and find other places to stay [in neighbouring communities]. It is too much. If you don't have a little boat, you can't get around."

The recent graduate said his father lost about seven hectares of his cropland.

Adjouhoun's regional mayor, Gerard Adounsiba, launched a national funding appeal to help his population face what he called the region's "largest humanitarian crisis to date." He had asked the national government for food, medical support and help relocating flood victims.

Region's 'largest humanitarian crisis'

Council member Assogba said he cannot remember when things were ever this bad, "People cannot even eat three times a day now. Even to find food once a day is a headache. Normally, agricultural products are bought and sold here at decent prices. But now things have changed."

Assogba says more children are becoming infected with malaria. Adjouhoun's secretary general, Armel Assogba, told IRIN local authorities are worried about water-born diseases, "Thankfully, we do not have any cases of cholera yet, but the risk is there because this water is used for everything."

The town council estimates about half the population makes its living from fishing. "Made its living," clarified local fisherman Saliou Assogba, "there are no fish now. It is tragic. The fish scattered and it is impossible to find them."

The council said district government officials from Oueme-Plateau, to which the flooded valley belongs, have sent food and medical supplies. But Adjouhoun authorities say this does not begin to cover their needs.

They say about 2,000 people, mostly children, need medicine and centres to seek care because a number of the region's eight hospitals are flooded.

National officials from the Ministry for Civil Protection are awaiting an evaluation of flood damage, according to Adjouhoun officials.

Benin's school year starts on 6 October, but Adjouhoun council worker Gabriel Assogba said he is not sure where his region's students should go, "We cannot start classes like other communities. The schools are flooded. This is going to be difficult."