Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hope trickles through

Today is World Blog Action Day for Climate Change and Head Down Eyes Open tries to do its small bit by bringing you a report from the ground in Senegal and Burkino Faso which are suffering from the devastation caused by extreme flooding. 

In the suburbs of Dakar and various regions in Senegal affected by floods, thousands of people are fighting for survival. Most are living in flooded houses in stifling humidity and deplorable sanitary conditions, and are exposed to the risks posed by waterborne diseases and reptiles running rife in some areas. 
In Kaolack, in the centre of Senegal, the fact that people are living amidst rubbish-laden water has sparked fears of outbreaks of infectious diseases. In the region of Saint-Louis, in the north of the country, some neighbourhoods and several villages are now deserted as a result of the floods.

“It has rained non-stop for three days. Even the permanent houses were unable to withstand the heavy rains, not to mention the ones made from straw and bamboo. We have never seen anything like this before,” says Amadou Abdoul Ba, the chief of the village of Lougdemis in the north of Senegal.

Wreaked havoc

In the city of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, the situation is gradually stabilizing more than a month after floods wreaked havoc on 1 September 2009.

“After the emergency aid provided to the people affected by the floods, we have focused efforts on helping them to recover and adjusting our assistance programme to their needs and the funding raised in response to our appeal,” explains Brigitte Gaillis, head of the Red Cross Red Crescent flood operation in Senegal and Burkina Faso.

Aid is now being organized, with the support of the international teams specialized in water and sanitation, logistics and relief who have come to lend a helping hand to the National Red Cross Societies of Senegal and Burkina Faso. 

Devastated by floods

In Rosso, situated in northern Senegal, the inhabitants of Lougdemis, a village completely devastated by the floods, are starting a new life. Thanks to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and its partners, 127 tents have been erected to provide shelter to flood victims, with the help of volunteers from the Senegalese Red Cross Society.

Amadou Abdoul Ba, the village chief, has just moved there with his family. In an attempt to put the nightmare of Lougdemis behind them, he and the members of the community have renamed the new site Medina Mountaga Daha Tall.

“With the camp and the support of the Red Cross, we are going to try and get our livestock farming activities started again and find good sites to grow rice in the surrounding area,” explains Amadou Abdoul Ba, who just a week ago was sleeping out in the open with his family and all the members of his village.

Restoring hope in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, it was decided to relocate all the flood victims staying in schools to alternative sites when classes resumed. According to the Burkinabe Red Cross Society, almost 60,000 people have to be moved to the new sites.

At the new alternative sites, volunteers from the Burkinabe Red Cross Society are organizing educational campaigns to prevent waterborne diseases and help people to hang mosquito nets in the tents. They have already installed two 10,000-litre water tanks at the racecourse site housing 5,000 people, and built 14 blocks of six latrines at five other sites.

Basic necessities

In the district of Nongr Massom, where one of the alternative sites is located, the Burkinabe Red Cross Society has organized the distribution of basic necessities to 1,000 families with the help of the IFRC. Distribution operations are also being carried out at other sites.

This initiative has restored hope to many people affected by the floods, such as Ouédraogo Alizèta, a widow aged more than fifty who has benefited from the assistance provided.

“My thanks to the Red Cross,” she said, visibly moved.

Like her, thousands of people affected by floods in West and Central Africa have received assistance from the IFRC through National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other donors.

Safer houses

In addition to the assistance programme, some 2,500 families in Burkina Faso will receive shelter kits and be taught how to build safer houses capable of withstanding floods. Similar activities will also be carried out in Senegal.

As the rainy season starts in Central Africa, the IFRC is on maximum alert.

“In a few days, we will have the seasonal forecasts for Central Africa from the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD). Meanwhile, our emergency stocks are being replenished in Yaoundé (Cameroon) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure that we are ready for every eventuality,” stresses Youcef Ait-Chellouche, the disaster management coordinator at the IFRC office in Dakar.

Emergency appeals

On 10 September, the IFRC launched two emergency appeals for a total of 4.8 million Swiss francs (4.6 million US dollars/3.2 million euro) to help the National Societies of Burkina Faso and Senegal provide assistance to people affected by flooding in these two countries. Previously, the IFRC had launched an “early warning, early action” appeal based on meteorological forecasts in order to ensure, through the National Societies in the region, that populations at risk are prepared and that emergency stocks are pre-positioned at strategic locations.

Operations in Senegal and Burkina Faso and in the subregion were supported by OPEC and various governments through the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the United States, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, the German Embassy in Dakar and the Global Health Workforce Alliance at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

My good colleague Mustapha Diallo wrote this piece for

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