UN food planes, helicopters bring relief to flood victims in Somalia and Kenya

(un.org) - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched a regional air operation with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to transport humanitarian workers and aid to more than 1 million people in Somalia and Kenya hit by the worst floods in years, reports Trend.

"The hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes in both Somalia and Kenya by the floods need our help right now and delivering assistance by air is the only option with large numbers of them cut off by the floodwaters," WFP Country Director in Kenya Burkard Oberle said.

"The floods knocked out bridges and have made many roads impassable so we urgently need funding for this operation to get the planes and the helicopters in the air," he added.

The $11.4-million, three-month special operation will provide a medium-sized aircraft to fly aid into flood-affected areas of southern Somalia, a large Ilyushin-76 plane to airdrop food into Somalia and Kenya, two heavy-lift helicopters to send aid to Somalia and two more to ferry food and other aid to survivors in north-eastern Kenya.

One or two short take-off and landing fixed-wing aircraft would also be chartered to ensure deliveries to Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, where scores of thousands of Somalis fleeing conflict and drought in their own country have sought refuge.

In Somalia, it is estimated that 900,000 people will need food and other assistance in the next three months because of floods. Conflict, poor roads and the harsh environment hamper aid operations, and heavy rains in Ethiopia raise the prospect of more widespread flooding along the Juba and Shabelle rivers.

"Even without the floods, Somalia is one of the most difficult places to deliver assistance in the world," WFP Country Director for Somalia Peter Goossens said. "So with the waters still rising, this operation is the only way to get food and other assistance to those who are in very desperate need."

If the flooding worsens, WFP will mobilize more aircraft, depending on the needs. A WFP-chartered Boeing 747 will in the next 24 hours airlift the first of 190 metric tons of high energy biscuits from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy, to Nairobi, Kenya's capital, from where it will be flown to the worst-hit areas.

In Kenya, some 200,000 people in the north and coastal areas who were being fed by WFP cannot be reached by road, while 160,000 mainly Somali refugees in three camps at Dadaab are cut off from supplies with WFP-contracted trucks stuck in mud en route. In Dadaab the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been forced to withdraw all its workers to higher ground.

The UN estimates that up to 1.8 million people are affected by floods in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Cholera outbreaks have been reported and the toll from diseases such as malaria is expected to rise.

In Ethiopia, more than 360,000 people have been affected by flooding in the country's Somali Region. The UN World Health Organization has sent 24 Emergency Health Kits to assist the flood response.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has approved an allocation of nearly $12 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund for flood response in Kenya and an additional $3 million to help flood survivors in Somalia. .

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