DAKAR, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Floods in West Africa are wrecking infrastructure, homes and crops and spreading disease, adding to the misery of tens of thousands already struggling to cope with high food and fuel prices, the United Nations said on Monday.
U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA called on West African governments to meet to coordinate humanitarian efforts and draw up longer-term solutions to the seasonal flooding threat which strikes huge swathes of the world's poorest continent each year.
Heavy rains and floods across most of West Africa had killed 31 people and affected nearly 130,000 more as of September 1, OCHA said, citing Togo, Ghana, Niger, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal among those hit. This followed serious rainy season floods last year which killed hundreds across Africa.
In addition, a cholera epidemic in tiny Guinea-Bissau has killed 103 people out of 4,406 cases up to Sept. 4 in an outbreak that floodwaters helped to spread, U.N. officials said.
OCHA's representative for West Africa, Herve Ludovic de Lys, urged the West African regional group ECOWAS to host a meeting of governments and donors to plan effective, lasting responses to what had turned into a recurring annual humanitarian crisis.
"Rains don't stop at borders," De Lys told a news conference in Dakar.
"In the context of the food and energy crisis, these floods that are hitting West Africa are worrying," he said.
De Lys called for the creation of a specialised regional fund to mobilise resources not just for a response to immediate humanitarian needs but to finance longer-term solutions, such as better infrastructure or micro-credits to help farmers recover.
FOOD, FUEL PRICE SHOCKS
"What we're saying is that if we don't want natural catastrophes to worsen poverty in the region, then we have to act now," the OCHA representative said.
West Africa, where millions live in poverty, has been one of the parts of the world most vulnerable to the twin shocks of higher food and fuel prices. Popular anger over the soaring cost of living triggered riots in several West African countries.
OCHA said infrastructure damage had a major humanitarian impact on populations. For example, in Togo, floods had destroyed eleven bridges and this had pushed up the costs of transport and basic food staples.
Landlocked neighbours like Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, also felt these effects as they relied on Togo's Atlantic port of Lome to receive essential imports.
These countries, along with Ghana, had suffered their own flood damage. In Niger's western region of Tillaberi, flooding had wrecked agricultural infrastructure and could reduce rice output, increasing the risk of food insecurity, OCHA said.
In the Senegalese capital Dakar, flooding had filled streets and homes with stagnant water, increasing the risks of malaria typhoid fever and diarrhoea. An outbreak of cholera had also been reported in parts of Benin. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/) (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)