Floods threaten tribes in Ethiopia's Omo Valley

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The Independent Online

Floods in Ethiopia have dealt a devastating blow to some of the country's most endangered tribes after it emerged yesterday that more than 1,000 people may have been killed across the country in the past week.

At least 626 people have been confirmed dead so far and tens of thousands more made homeless after weeks of torrential rain caused a number of rivers to burst their banks. One of the areas affected is the Omo Valley region in southern Ethiopia, home to numerous indigenous tribes. Many of them, such as the Dassanech, Hammar and Nyangaton, featured in the recent BBC series Tribe presented by the explorer Bruce Parry.

Particularly at risk from the current floods are the Dassanech, who live in the Omo's delta as it enters Lake Turkana, a region already prone to annual flooding.

The Dassanech's misery has been compounded as before this year's rains the Omo Delta had suffered one of the region's worst droughts in more than 30 years.

Steve Robinson, the series producer for Tribe, said: "We are very concerned that some of the people that our crew, and Bruce in particular, became friends with will have been affected by the flooding, as it has hit hard the area around Lake Turkana where Bruce stayed with the Dassanech people.

"We have been in contact with our location manager, Zablon, in Ethiopia, and the translator who worked with us out there to try to establish the situation, though as the area has been hard hit by the flooding, it could be days before we are able to find out what has happened to the people featured in the Tribe programme."

Daniel Gezahegn, head of the information department of the Southern Nations and Nationalities People's Region in Ethiopia, said the confirmed death toll in the region had reached 194 by Wednesday. "We have difficulties in reaching them due to the remoteness of the area," he said. "There is no telephone or other means of communication." About 2,790 heads of livestock have also been washed away and 760 grain containers demolished, he added.

Aid agencies are concerned that pastoral tribes are particularly vulnerable. "It is vital that emergency actions are followed up by support to help those tribes who are small-scale pastoralists," said Survival International's research coordinator, Fiona Watson.

The Ethiopian authorities and aid agencies fear that as the rains continue to fall further areas are at risk of flooding. An official on state-run radio has already told people living in the north-eastern region of Afar to prepare for flooding from the Awash river, the country's longest at 745 miles.

The recent seasonal rains, which usually fall between June and September, have been some of the heaviest in a country that frequently suffers severe drought.