“The situation in [Ethiopia’s] Somali region is absolutely critical, and thousands upon thousands of men, women and children need our most urgent help,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Director in Ethiopia Mohamed Diab said. “Unless emergency relief supplies reach people very quickly, lives may be lost. “The Government, UN agencies and humanitarian partners have worked around the clock to get supplies to those in need. “But many trucks laden with food and medicine were stranded in mud and have been unable to reach all communities. The fastest means of reaching some areas now is by helicopter.” Last week WFP launched a regional air operation with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to transport humanitarian workers and aid for more than 1 million people in Somalia and Kenya. Including Ethiopia, up to1.8 million people are estimated to be endangered by the worst regional flooding in years. The two agency-chartered Mi-8 helicopters today left Gode, administrative capital of the Somali region of south-east Ethiopia, for Mustahil, one of the worst-affected areas that has been largely cut off since the flooding began more than a month ago. Some 65,000 people in Mustahil alone are estimated to need urgent aid. The helicopters will go to Kelafo and East Imi, two other hard-hit areas in the next few days. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) will cover the cost of the operation with WFP taking the lead logistical role. The Government pre-positioned 530 tons of food in Gode for the airlift. To date, the Government has sent almost 2,000 tons to areas hit by the floods with trucks that managed to get through after many days of arduous travel on very treacherous roads. The flooding has killed 80 people and destroyed roads, bridges and property across the region. Some 362,000 people have lost their livelihoods and 122,500 of them have been displaced. Humanitarian agencies fear that malaria and water-borne diseases such as acute diarrhoea will spread through flood-affected areas, worsening an already difficult situation, and UN agencies and the Government have sent to Gode non-food items, including medical supplies, blankets, water purification sets, cooking pots, plastic sheeting and seeds, some of which will also be airlifted by the WFP helicopters. Earlier this year, Ethiopia’s Somali region was hard hit by a drought that also struck Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti, leaving 8.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid. In Ethiopia, 1.6 million people were affected as their animals died, their watering holes dried up and malnutrition rates increased.