19 August 2012, Niamey, Niger: Heavy rains overnight flooded homes and streets. Credit: OCHA/Franck Kuwonu
Concerns are growing in Niger that there could be a repeat of the devastating floods that hit the country in August this year. It is clear that Tillabéry, Dosso and the capital, Niamey, will be flooded in the next few weeks, but this time the authorities believe they are better prepared.
Weeks ago, the Regional Niger Basin Authority warned that the water level in the Niger River could reach 530 cm (5metres and 30 cm) at the beginning of December, triggering a flood alert for low-lying areas. The neighbourhood of Harobanda in Niamey is particularly exposed: the August floods affected more than 10,000 people, and the Government is encouraging them to leave their homes temporarily in advance of the anticipated December floods.
“This time we know fairly well what will happen and when it will happen. And as it is better to prevent than to cure, we must act fast and immediately,” said Ms. Kané Aichatou Boulama, the Governor of Niamey, in late November.
The authorities identified a site that can hold 2,000 families, and they began moving families there on 8 and 9 December.
“I am relieved to be here,” said Moussa, a father of six, sitting with his two wives and his children at the entrance of a tent donated by the non-governmental organization Shelterbox. They had just arrived at the camp and were busy catching up on a late lunch of rice and beef stew.
“I’d rather be here in a tent on dry land than be surrounded by water over there,” he explains. “We’ve only been here for a few hours, but I have no complaints.”
Moussa and his family were among the first 50 families to move. Humanitarian organizations, including UN agencies and local NGOs, are still setting up the site. UNICEF and Shelterbox are helping with shelters, Oxfam is providing water-and-sanitation facilities, IOM is helping to move families to the relocation site, and OCHA is helping the Governor’s office to coordinate the relief operation and support information management.
On arrival, every family receives a grant of 30,000 FCFA (US$60) and a food kit, including sugar, cooking oil, milk and gari (cassava grits).
“This is to help with their immediate food needs,” explained Seini Seydou, from the Harobanda Mayor’s office.
The August floods killed 100 people, forced thousands more from their homes in the middle of the night and affected an estimated 500,000 people throughout Niger. It is difficult to predict the number of people who will be affected this time. But it is almost certain that some of the same people will be uprooted again, as they returned to live in previously flooded areas.
“The relocation of families most at risk is urgent. We cannot stop the water from rising, but we can mitigate the consequences. We can minimize suffering and save lives,” said Ms. Aichatou Boulama.