Uganda flood victims look to the sky for food aid

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OLINIM, Uganda, Oct 19 (Reuters) Ugandan flood victims stared up at the sky today to witness UN planes start dropping bags of aid, the first food some had seen in months.

Surrounded by rotting crops, some lined up eagerly and others took to the shade under sparse trees as an Antonov cargo plane droned past, dumping sacks full of beans and sorghum to the ground with a repetitive thud -- 26 tonnes in total.

''It's not going to be enough,'' said George Kamara, surveying the white sacks piling up in a field. ''Some of us have not eaten since last month.'' The United Nations' World Food Programme was forced this week to air drop food for the first time in Uganda, after the east African nation suffered its worst floods in 35 years.

The operation was a last resort to help tens of thousands.

''We bought heavy duty trucks and still they couldn't do it,'' Konjit Kidane, WFP logistics officer for Uganda told Reuters.

''Roads are totally destroyed. Air is the only way.'' Uganda has been one of the countries worst hit by torrential rains that swept over east and west Africa in the past few months, washing away villages, destroying food crops and drowning livestock.

In Olinim camp, 3,000 refugees who fled Uganda's 20-year civil war in the north with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels were cut off from aid.

Though the waters have receded, they reduced hundreds of thatched huts to rubble and drowned acres of sorghum crops now turned brown and fetid in the sun.

Locals said malaria followed -- mosquitoes thrived in the stagnant puddles -- killing scores of young children.

''I planted ground nuts, cassava, potatoes -- they were just about to flower then it all got spoiled,'' said Felix Okello, 49, who lost 40 acres of crops and wonders how he will feed a wife and 10 children.

''Look,'' said Lily Okong, 45, pointing to a pile of clay bricks strewn across overgrown grass. ''These used to be huts. My home collapsed. Now I'm sleeping under a tree.'' As local aid workers gathered up the food sacks to distribute, children in rags chased after bags that had split on impact, gathering up the scattered grain. A teenage boy filled his pockets with beans.

Conservative estimates put the total number of people killed in floods, from Ethiopia to as far west as Senegal, at 200. Aid agencies say a million people have been affected and expect the death toll to rise. More rains are expected.

Meteorologists say Uganda's weather has become erratic, with unprecedented spells of drought followed by floods. Some blame climate change.

''I heard about climate change, I'm worried,'' said Eugene Awany, 65, a retired county court clerk. ''If this keeps happening, we can't survive here.'' REUTERS RSA RAI2231

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