Heavy rains falling in the Blue Nile catchment areas of the Ethiopian highlands have left many villages and settlements submerged, while water levels in the Nile are reportedly higher than 1988, when the river burst its banks and caused massive destruction, the agency said in a special alert issued at its Rome headquarters. The worst affected areas are northern and eastern parts along the Nile, including areas around the capital city Khartoum. South Darfur State has also suffered from flash floods due to torrential rains, causing the evacuation of large numbers of inhabited islands on the Nile. However, several villages and towns remain isolated by the floods, with access to those populations limited by damage to main roads and bridges, the agency said. “The humanitarian situation in the affected areas is reported to be critical and there is an urgent need for international assistance to rescue stranded people and provide them with food, drinking water, medicines and other assistance,” FAO said, noting that airlift operations were needed to reach isolated populations. According to the UN agency, preliminary indications also point to significant crop and livestock losses. “Over the last two years, lower harvests coupled with virtual depletion of stocks have led to a sharp rise in cereal prices, reducing access to food for the poorer segments of the population,” the alert warned. “The purchasing power of large numbers of people, particularly pastoralists, has been seriously eroded. With coping mechanisms stretched to the limit, farmers and other vulnerable groups have migrated in search of work and food. The number of people joining WFP’s ‘Food for Work’ programmes has increased dramatically.”FAO and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are planning to field a joint mission to the country in October to assess the outcome of this year’s harvest and food supply outlook for 2001-02 including an estimation of the country’s food import requirements and food aid needs of the affected population.