The Heat Is Online

West Africa Flooding Inundates 600,000 People

Flooded West Africans 'live like a fish'


600,000 impacted, some of whom eat, sleep and now 'work in the water'


The Associated Press, Sept . 14, 2009

FASS MBAO, Senegal - The only piece of furniture that survived the most recent flood in Fatou Dione's house is her bed. It's propped up on cinderblocks and hovers just above the water lapping at the walls of her bedroom.

The water stands a foot deep throughout her house. She shakes off her wet feet each time she climbs into her bed. To keep it dry, she tries to place her feet on the same spot so that only one corner of her mattress becomes moist.

Torrential rains have lashed Africa's western coast for the past three months, killing 159 people and flooding the homes and businesses of more than 600,000 others, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.

They include the patients of one of Burkina Faso's largest hospitals who had to be carried out on gurneys after water invaded the wards. They include those living on the banks of a river in northern Niger, whose homes were swept away when a dike burst under the weight of the rain. And they also include tens of thousands of people like Dione whose homes took on a foot or less of water and whose ordeals are not a priority for the country's overwhelmed emergency response teams.

While the rains have been extreme, people are also to blame, said Col. Singhane Diagne, spokesman for the country's firefighters. The home where Dione lives should never have been built, he said. During the droughts of the 1970s, people began illegally building houses in the low-lying marshes that surround Dakar, the Senegalese capital. When the drought ended and the rains returned, these bowl-shaped neighborhoods began to flood.

"Every year we pump the same houses. Not just once. Over and over. You pump the water out  and it comes right back. Like a boomerang," says Diagne. "These people need to leave."

Poor areas of 6 nations hit

Among the six countries where the flooding has been most severe  Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Ghana  the neighborhoods most affected are the poor ones. Typically these communities are the result of urban sprawl, built without municipal approval, using unsafe materials. In Ouagadougou, the hard-hit capital of Burkina Faso, many of the flooded homes were made of nothing more than clay.

In Senegal, the government has built a satellite community of around 150 homes outside the flood plain, but the homes are already nearly full. The U.N. estimates that just in Senegal, 264,000 people have been affected by flooding. And although many families say their homes flood every year, they say that they do not have the money to move.

As the rain continues to come down, families are waging individual battles with water. About 20 miles away from Fass Mbao, in the flooded suburb of Tivaouane, 37-year-old Mansour Ndiaye tries to scoop water into a bucket using a large sponge. The courtyard to his family's home is a pool. He had managed to dry out the hallway of his family's home by the time the afternoon rain started. "I'm doing the best I can," he said.

His elderly neighbor, Assane Sock, had spent the day before carrying buckets out of his house. The water seeped back in overnight. He spends the afternoon looking for pieces of wood and stones to try to elevate his furniture and his Singer sewing machine. He's a tailor, he explained. And he can't sew if his clients' clothes are trailing in the water.

"I live like a fish," he said. "I eat in the water. I sleep in the water. And now I work in the water."

International aid not enough for all

Limited aid is being distributed to the most affected regions. The U.N. World Food Program hopes to give out food rations to 125,000 people, including in Rosso, the small community on the banks of the Senegal River in southern Mauritania.

The water was so deep in some neighborhoods that people were forced to swim out.

"I lost my entire house. All of my furniture. All of my things. We swam for 45 minutes to get out of the flooded area," said 54-year-old Marieme Fall in Rosso.

Even as the aid begins to arrive, the rain continues to fall. On a recent evening in Fass Mbao, 40-year-old Saliba Ndiaye was hurrying to get home. The dun-colored water on the main road came up to her hips. As she pushed her way through, it started to pour again. She was soaked by the time she pushed open the door to her house, where her six young children were waiting. Unlike her neighbors, her floors are dry, even though rain sprays in through a hole in the roof.

She grabbed her baby and pulled him close, his dry body smack against her soaked, brown shirt. He nursed, oblivious to his wet mother. "We've learned to live with the water," she said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

West Africa flooding affects 600,000, U.N. reports, Sept. 8, 2009

 (CNN) -- Torrential rains and flooding have affected 600,000 people in 16 West African nations, the United Nations reported Tuesday.

The worst hit have been Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana and Niger, said Yvon Edoumou, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. So far, 159 people have died, he said.

Edoumou said removing water from flooded areas is a top priority, but powerful pumps are in short supply.

"Some people refused to leave their homes so they are living in floodwaters," he said.

The United Nations  has not yet received reports of waterborne diseases, but Edoumou said a real threat exists of diarrhea or, worse, cholera.

Private aid agencies are working with the United Nations to distribute food and other emergency items. Oxfam International is assessing the crisis in Burkina Faso, where 150,000 people have been affected in the capital, Ouagadougou, and key infrastructure has been damaged, including a central hospital, schools, bridges and roads. The flooding in Burkina Faso  is the worst in 90 years.

"These people were already living in difficult conditions, housed in slums, and now they are homeless and forced to sleep on school floors and use plastic bags for a mattress," Oxfam spokeswoman Marta Valdes said.

Herve Ludovic de Lys, head of the U.N.'s OCHA in West Africa, said natural disasters have a lasting effect that unravels years of progress against poverty.

"The situation is very worrying," he said in an OCHA statement issued Tuesday.

The rainy season in West Africa begins in June and continues through late September. In 2007, 300 people died and 800,000 were affected by storms.

This year, fears abound that more heavy rain will fall in already waterlogged areas.

Despite the misery, Edoumou said the rains are a mixed blessing for countries dependent on agriculture. The harvest this year will be more bountiful, he said.



350,000 displaced by floods in West Africa, Sept. 5, 2009

(CNN) -- At least 30 people were killed and 350,000 displaced when torrential rains soaked much of West Africa, the United Nations said Friday.

Flooding in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, killed five and affected about 150,000, the aid agency said.

It also prompted evacuations at a city hospital, said Elizabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

At least 25 people were killed in Ghana, mostly in the capital, Accra.

In neighboring Niger, about 3,500 buildings were partially destroyed, with the north's Agadez region hardest hit, the United Nations said.

Benin, Guinea and Senegal each reported tens of thousands of people affected by the rains.

As many as 350,000 people in the region have been affected, Byrs said.


Flooding in West Africa affects 350,000


U.N. teams assessing needs in Burkina Faso and Benin


The Associated Press, Sept . 4, 2009

UNITED NATIONS - Heavy flooding is hitting some 350,000 people across West Africa, killing at least 25 in Ghana and seven in Burkina Faso, U.N. officials said Friday.

The most badly affected appears to be Burkina Faso, where 110,000 have been forced to flee their homes, mainly in the capital, Ouagadougou.

On Friday, a seven-member assessment team from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was expected to arrive in Ouagadougou. The country's main hospital is three-quarters flooded, requiring early discharges and massive evacuations of patients, some with infectious diseases.

Benin, too, has been flooded since July, and a U.N. team is there assessing its needs. Also hard hit are the Western African nations of Guinea, Niger and Senegal.

Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for OCHA in Geneva, Switzerland, said the amount of rain that fell Thursday in Ouagadougou equaled a quarter of all Burkina Faso's typical annual rainfall.

"It was a deluge," she told U.N. Radio. "But you have also Ghana, where 25 people died from the bad weather and from the floods. The death toll is likely to increase in the coming days."

In Burkina Faso, Minister of Social Welfare Pascaline Tamini said on state radio Wednesday that she expected the number of people affected to grow significantly in the coming hours. President Blaise Compaore appealed to the international community for help.

Flood damages in the nation had risen to $152 million as of Friday, according to Prime Minister Tertius Zongo. That includes a dam destroyed and 12 bridges damaged in Ouagadougou and a dam destroyed in the northern Sahel region.

The rain in Ouagadougou this week has been the worst there in recent memory. But heavy rain two years ago caused flooding throughout the country, killing 84 people and displacing 146,000.

Local authorities have been forced to open the main gate of a hydroelectric dam in the Volta River basin, near the Ghana border, threatening people in both countries with additional flooding, according to the U.N.

When the state-run electricity company opened the dam's gate on Friday morning, the water was less than 3 inches from reaching the dam's capacity, according to Venance Bouda, the firm's director of hydroelectric power.

"Even when we operate normally and release water, some people drown while crossing (the river) downstream," Bouda said. "Cultivated land on the reservoir's shores and further upstream will be flooded. We warn riverside residents to stay away from the shores."

It is only the sixth time since the dam was built in 1994 that the dam had to be opened; an instance two years ago caused flooding in parts of northern Ghana.

Ghana officials told the U.N. they had less than a day's notice before the gate was opened but that no one could have expected the rainfall to fill the reservoir so quickly.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tens of thousands flee West Africa floods


150,000 said to need help in Burkina Faso; deaths reported in Niger


Reuters, Sept . 3, 2009


DAKAR - The heaviest rainfall in 90 years in the African state of Burkina Faso has triggered heavy flooding and forced thousands of people to flee their homes, the government said Wednesday.


"We have been able to find shelter for about 110,000 people but there are others who have taken refuge with their neighbors," Prime Minister Tertius Zongo told reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting.


"There are at least 150,000 people to cater for."


Aid groups in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, which has a population of about 1 million, said the flood water had smashed bridges and roads and could hamper their work.


"Bridges and dams have been destroyed, the main hospital in Ouagadougou which is close to a dam was inundated and some patients including about 60 children were evacuated," Rosine

Jourdain of the Belgian Red Cross in Burkina Faso told Reuters by telephone.


"An electrical plant was also destroyed so I think we are going to have some power supply problems."


In neighboring Niger, hundreds of families have also been made homeless by flooding in the uranium-rich region of Agadez when their homes collapsed after the river Kora burst and flooded the town of Agadez which has a population of about 80,000.


"Many persons are dead and others are unaccounted for. This is one of the worst disasters in the history of Agadez," Ali Hamidou, a craftsman and resident of the town, told Reuters by phone.


Seasonal rains from June regularly cause fatal floods and mudslides in West Africa. In 2007, over 800,000 people were affected, some 300 died while homes, crops and infrastructure were washed away.


Copyright 2009 Reuters.