NIGER: How rapid coordination saved lives during the flooding of Imbelbellou

On the night of 28 June, a heavy downpour almost swallowed Imbelbellou – a village of 7000 inhabitants in a precarious valley in the Maradi region of southern Niger.

Maradi is Niger’s most populous region, and the country’s breadbasket, but is prone to natural disasters and vulnerable to epidemics.

The day after the downpour, the people of Imbelbellou were scared. The future of their village hung in the balance.

Realizing he had no time to waste, the village headman ran to the office of the Nigerien Red Cross to ask for help.

He was asked to get in touch with the head of the local OCHA Sub-Office Idrissa Conteh.

On hearing the news, Mr. Conteh rushed to assess the situation. Most of the village was flooded - and there were fears of a malaria and cholera outbreak. Worse still, the whole village could be swept away if there was another downpour.

Wheels were set in motion. OCHA informed Sidi Mohamed, the regional governor and helped mobilize and coordinate assistance.

NGOs such as CARE, World Vision, and AREN (Association pour la Redynamisation de l’Elevage au Niger) gave on the spot cash donations. UNICEF provided tools, masks and gloves, and the Africa Muslims Agency provided food rations for a month. A cash-for-work project was started the very same day.

Fuel was bought for a bulldozer, and men were paid to dig gutters - draining the flood waters, and clearing away rubbish that was blocking the waterways. Before sunset, most of the water had been diverted, and many villagers who had been displaced were able to return home.

The following night, as feared, 180mm of rain fell on Imbelbellou. But the danger had been averted. The rain ran freely into the gutters, and emptied into the plains and forests below the village.

The village of Imbelbellou was saved.

“Effective coordination is a stitch in time. Your ability to mobilize partners and raise the required funds in record time speaks volumes about the essence of coordination during emergencies,” said Sidi Mohamed, the Governor of Maradi Region.

“We now know what OCHA does and why it is present here in our region,” said Malan Ousmane Abdoulaye, a trader and Muslim cleric of the village. “The Red-Cross made no mistake in referring us to the OCHA sub-office.”On the night of 28 June, a heavy downpour almost swallowed Imbelbellou – a village of 7000 inhabitants in a precarious valley in the Maradi region of southern Niger.

Villagers flee from flooded houses to higher ground, in Imbelbellou, Niger. Credit: Idrissa Conteh/OCHA