African governments advised to consider Climate Change in disaster planningNigeria
Governments in West and Central Africa should learn from this year's flooding - which has disrupted the livelihoods of nearly 2 million people - by urgently factoring Climate Change into their disaster prevention and response plans, aid groups say.
Extreme weather linked to Climate Change, including heavy rainfall, is expected to cause increasing damage in the region. In West Africa alone this year, the number of people who lost their homes and property due to floods doubled from around 800,000 in 2009 to 1.6 million.
Aid workers say governments could have done more to protect vulnerable communities.
"There has been excess rainfall, but it seems authorities in some of these countries did not have proper forecasts and could not take the necessary action to handle these problems," said Yvon Edomou, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in West and Central Africa.
This year, floods have washed away crops in Chad and Niger, which were already struggling to recover from drought and food shortages, and disrupted the lives of 680,000 people in the coastal state of Benin. Ghana and Nigeria have also been badly affected.
Changing rainfall patterns
Augustine Njamnshi, central African coordinator for the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, said most of West and Central Africa is likely to face extreme conditions, including heavy rainfall, on a regular basis. Floods not only wash away homes and possessions, but also harm agriculture and cause spikes in diseases such as cholera and malaria.
"The rainfall patterns have been affected. Either we have nothing when rains are due, or long torrential rainfall causing climate-displaced people in many countries," Njamnshi told AlertNet in a telephone interview from Yaounde, Cameroon.
"We need to do something because this thing (Climate Change) is real."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says governments and communities must recognise the importance of reducing the risk of disasters, which is growing as climate patterns shift, and take concrete action, including effective urban planning.
Overpopulation in African towns and cities has forced many people to build homes in disaster-prone areas such as flood plains, river banks and slopes.
"Governments have to relocate these people to safer ground and attempt to reclaim such areas where possible before people settle there, but citizens themselves must realise how risky these places are and avoid them," said Moustapha Diallo, IFRC spokesman for West and Central Africa.
Authorities also need to strengthen drainage systems, including canals to control the flow of water, and review building materials to ensure they are resistant to extreme weather conditions, he added.
Early action initiatives
Aid agencies themselves have been stepping up efforts to raise awareness of the need for better preparedness.
The IFRC and OCHA are working to sensitise governments and communities through disaster response training for national bodies charged with civil protection and disaster management. For example, just before the rainy season started this year, they organised a regional workshop and simulation in Cape Verde.
And in 2008, the IFRC launched an "early warning, early action" appeal for funds to put in place preparedness measures, based on seasonal forecasts for severe rainfall.
The money was used to stock emergency relief supplies, train volunteers to inform populations about what to do in case of floods, and place disaster response teams on stand-by for rapid deployment. The IFRC says the approach helped save lives and reduce operational costs when the rains arrived.
The agency did the same in 2009, with the aim of assisting 25,000 people in 16 countries in West and Central Africa. However, because donors were slow to respond ahead of an actual emergency, it used internal funds this year to build up relief supplies before the onset of the rainy season.
Despite these initiatives, the devastating and widespread impact of this year's flooding suggests there is much more work to be done - both by governments and international aid agencies - to address the growing threat of climate-related disasters in the region.
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