Rainy season in West and Central Africa: the IFRC's "early warning, early action"-system in practice

Published: 10 July 2009 0:00 CET

Noora Kero, IFRC zone communications manager, in Dakar

The rainy season has begun in West and Central Africa and torrential rain has already caused damage in Benin, the Central African Republic and Ghana. In Gambia, a serious storm has hit four regions causing widespread destruction of houses.

The government of Benin has declared the floods a national disaster and has requested local and international humanitarian assistance for the affected areas. According to a first evaluation done by the Benin Red Cross, seven people have died and 18 residential areas in Cotonou and Abomey-Calavi have been hit. In these areas 13,000 people are affected and more than 2,000 houses are submerged by flood water.

"Compared to last year, these rains are severe for the beginning of the season. The first week of July is normally not this wet", says Youcef Ait-Chellouche, IFRC-disaster management coordinator in Dakar.

"The rain has continued during the last few days so the situation is getting worse. In some suburbs, there is water up to two meters high", adds Blandine Babadankpodji, director of disaster management at the Benin Red Cross.

Madame Valentine, who is living in the Akogbato suburb of Cotonou in Benin says: "In the previous floods, the road that is leading to my place was inundated for a stretch of 100 metres. This year one kilometre of the road is covered with water and my house is flooded."

Immediate financial aid

The International Federation has allocated 90,882 Swiss francs (83,462 US dollars; 59,845 Euro) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Benin Red Cross National Society in its response to the floods. The money will be used to buy blankets, mosquito nets, soap, clothing and drinking water. In addition, Benin Red Cross volunteers will assist in the distribution of the relief items and talk to the affected people about the importance of good hygiene to avoid waterborne diseases.

An additional 35,300 Swiss francs has been allocated to the Central African Republic (CAR) where rains have caused damage in the capital of Bangui. According to the CAR Red Cross, 11,000 people have been made homeless and are living in harsh conditions.

Heavy rains have also lashed parts of Ghana, particularly the capital Accra, the Central and Volta regions. According to health authorities, 13 people have been confirmed dead. Ghana Red Cross and government authorities are currently evaluating the situation.

In Gambia, the National Red Cross Society will distribute roofing materials to 1,600 people whose houses were destroyed in a severe storm on 2 July. 75,305 Swiss francs haves been allocated from the Federation to support Gambian communities to re-roof 150 damaged houses.

Early warning, early action - learning by doing

While the floods and storms have been severe, they did not arrive without warning. According to the seasonal predictions by the African Centre for Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) Benin, CAR and Ghana are among the countries that are at risk for severe flooding between July and September of this year. The IFRC has been working with ACMAD since last year and the IFRC's Dakar office receives weekly updates which warn of possibly risks.

"Based on the information from ACMAD, we were prepared for heavy rains in Benin, CAR and Ghana and for the storm in Gambia. The day following the heavy rains, the evaluation team was already deployed to the field", explains Youcef Ait-Chellouche, IFRC disaster management coordinator in Dakar. In addition stocks of relief items were placed ahead of time, which now helps the rapid distribution to the affected people.

This is the second year in a row that West and Central Africa Zone disaster management has received tailored weather predictions from ACMAD. "We are still testing our early warning, early action mechanisms. This year, we will continue to increase our experiences and the ‘learning by doing'", concludes Ait-Chellouche.

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