- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP)

Torrential downpours and flash floods across Africa have submerged whole towns and washed away bridges, farms and schools. This summer’s rains have killed at least 150, displaced hundreds of thousands and prompted the United Nations to warn of a rising risk of disease outbreaks.

In eastern Uganda, nine persons have been reported killed and 150,000 have been made homeless since early August. Another 400,000 — mainly subsistence farmers — have lost their livelihoods after their fields were flooded or roads washed away and the rains are forecast to worsen in the next month.

“The problem is getting worse by the hour,” said Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s minister for relief and disaster preparedness, who spent Saturday viewing the affected areas by plane. “Access to some communities is almost impossible. We will need boats and helicopters to deliver emergency interventions,” he added.

“In some places, the water is the same color as the earth, so when you look at it, you think it is a field, then you realize it’s water,” Mr. Ecweru said.

On the other side of the continent, Ghana in West Africa has also been heavily hit. Three regions in the north, the country’s traditional breadbasket, have been declared an official disaster zone after whole towns and villages were submerged. Torrential rains between July and August killed at least 18 persons and displaced a quarter of a million, Information Minister Oboshie-Sai Cofie said Saturday. And more rains are expected through Monday.

“It is a humanitarian disaster. People have nowhere to go. Some of them are just hanging out there waiting for help to come at a point,” Mrs. Cofie said. The Ghanian government had received considerable aid, she said.

More than a million people across at least 17 countries have been affected, said Elisabeth Byrs of the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. People need clean water after their normal sources were contaminated, and emergency food and shelter after fields and houses were washed away.

“The rains are set to continue, and we are really concerned about the situation, because a lot of people are homeless and infectious diseases could emerge,” Miss Byrs said by phone from Geneva.

On Tuesday, the International Red Cross began an appeal for $1.2 million to help 600,000 people in Ghana, where 100,000 people are displaced and at risk for water-borne disease.

The World Food Program has asked for $60 million for Uganda.

“The floods stretch from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, more or less,” she said.

It is difficult to say how much rain has fallen; few African countries have meteorological services, and those that do only offer forecasting, lacking the staff and infrastructure to track weather in remote areas.

Governments say tens of thousands need aid in Kenya and Ethiopia, which was devastated by flooding last year as well.

In Sudan, refugees who had just returned at the end of a brutal civil war had to flee their homes again through waist-high waters in what the government called “the worst floods in living memory.” So far, 119 persons have died and tens of thousands been made homeless since the flooding began in mid-June, but the figure may be higher as much of its vast swampland is inaccessible except by air.

In the tiny west African nation of Togo, 20 persons are dead and 66,000 displaced after a deluge washed away 100 bridges and seven dams in the last week. The waters also destroyed 46 schools and some college buildings, forcing authorities to postpone the start of the school year.

French military helicopters from the peacekeeping mission in nearby Ivory Coast, which has also been affected, have been deployed to help airlift government-provided food and medical supplies to the needy.

In Burkina Faso, Amade Belem, who heads the country’s national emergency-management agency, said corn and millet farms were ruined.

“Our main concern is rehousing the population. We need food and medical supplies, because it goes without saying that the conditions in which these people are living, there will be no shortage of disease,” Mr. Belem said.

Five of the country’s 13 regions have been affected, and local news media say the floods are the worst here since 1954.

In the oil giant of Nigeria, 68 persons have died and 50,000 are affected, according to the Red Cross. Even the desert nations of Niger, Mali and Mauritania have been hit.

In some parts of Africa, officials say deforestation has exacerbated the problem.

Charles Ngiratware, the mayor of western Nyabihu district in Rwanda, said nearby Gishwati forest used to hold in far more floodwater and flash floods were not common. It was about 52,000 acres in 1981, but pressure to clear land for farming means it was only about 37,000 acres by 2002.

“The reason the rains devastated this district is because of the deforestation of Gishwati natural forest,” he said. Fifteen persons, mainly women and children, have drowned after flash floods in his district this week.

c Associated Press Writers Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo; Brahima Ouedraogo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania; Kimenyi Felly in Kigali, Rwanda; Kwasi Kpodo in Accra, Ghana; and Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva, Switzerland contributed to this report.

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