COTONOU (AFP) — Families sleep by the roadside under shelter made of scrap wood and metal, their homes destroyed by the rains in Benin -- the country seen as the hardest-hit by West African floods this rainy season.
"I had two children who died by drowning on October 2 after the rain that hit Cotonou," said Delphine Behanzin, 37, as she sat in the shade. "I'm lost. They were my reason to live."
Floods have hit a wide swathe of West and Central Africa in recent months, destroying entire villages and killing more than 100 people in Nigeria alone. Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger are among the other nations affected.
The United Nations says 377 people have died in the flooding, with nearly 1.5 million people affected since the start of the rainy season in June.
But UN officials say the small nation of Benin, a country of some 8.8 million people, has been dealt the hardest blow.
Some 43 people have died, while about 360,000 have been affected, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Nearly 100,000 people have been left homeless.
Almost two-thirds of the nation has been hit by flooding, according to a statement issued by the UN which said the humanitarian situation was "becoming increasingly worrying."
A recent survey of the city of Cotonou, the economic capital, and of the country's south by helicopter showed "that the crisis has been underestimated", according to the statement.
Aid officials have rushed to provide clean water and emergency shelter, while further outbreaks of cholera are also feared. There have already been some 800 cases, including seven deaths.
Heavy rains have hit Benin this season, and the Oueme river has overflowed its banks at a number of locations.
Cotonou is located at the river's mouth, and makeshift camps have sprouted along the city's edge in recent weeks, though the city centre has not been affected.
Aicha, 26, said the rains destroyed her small fruit-selling business and aid has been slow to arrive.