Worries rise over Azerbaijan floods

Published: 16 May 2003 0:00 CET

Concerns about the health situation in Azerbaijan are rising, as thousands of hectares of land remain under water and thousands of people have little or no access to clean water. Since April, persistent rains, exacerbated by heavy snowfalls, have caused the Kura and Araz rivers to burst their banks and flood eleven districts in south-eastern Azerbaijan, triggering landslides in certain regions.

With this prolonged period of flooding, the risk of aggravated cases of chronic diseases such as rheumatism and arthritis is increasing, while the population is at risk from waterborne diseases from contaminated sources of water - several cases of malaria have already been diagnosed.

At least two people have died in the floods, more than 6,000 families have been affected, and some 2,000 houses have been damaged. Additionally, more than 3,000 hectares of agricultural land has been submerged, destroying crops. According to the vice-premier of Azerbaijan, Abid Sharifov, estimated losses for the country from the flooding have reached US$ 30 million. The worst-affected districts are Salyan, Neftchala, Sabirabad, Zardab, Ali Bayramly and Kurdamir.

The Azerbaijan Red Crescent (AzRC) conducted a preliminary assessment last month, identifying 500 families who needed immediate assistance. Earlier this month, another joint Azerbaijan Red Crescent/Federation team visited Neftala, Salyan and Sabirabad branches. AzRC volunteers distributed food, blankets as well as kitchen and hygiene articles to 18 families who were evacuated from Subh Island and temporarily settled in public buildings.

This week, the government asked for international assistance. A request for support was jointly prepared by the AzRC and the Federation to finance the planned Red Crescent operation to help 500 homeless families (in Neftchala, Sabirabad and Salyan). The Turkish and Iranian Red Crescent Societies, as well as several local partners (Statoil, ExxonMobil and USAID) have responded favourably, and emergency items such as shovels, wheelbarrows, plastic sheeting and rubber boots will be distributed in the next few days.

Compared to last year, this spring's water level in the Kura river is nearly three metres higher. There are fears the situation could worsen as warmer weather melts the snow. The Red Crescent and the Federation continue to monitor the situation closely.

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