Thursday, September 13, 2012

West African Floods Bring Back the Same Old Problems

Amid the commotion in the flooded Saga district of Niger's capital Niamey, on the left bank of the Niger river, Issa Ali and his two wives are scrambling about in the water. With their four children already safe from danger, they try to fish out any clothes or other articles that may still be usable in whatever home they will live in next.
Collapsed walls and houses, household utensils floating in the river, whole villages wiped out, roads cut off - almost all West African countries have suffered the anguish, loss of life and wreckage of homes caused by recurrent floods over the past decade.
Every year, governments in the region launch national and sometimes international appeals for solidarity to aid flood victims, through assistance schemes such as Senegal's Orsec rescue plan, which was activated last month, or through fund-raising telethons.
However, despite these shows of support, which raise hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars depending on the country concerned, as if my magic the same scenes are played over again the following year. The recurring flood cycle leads some observers to blame private interests that stand to benefit as the phenomenon keeps repeating itself.
Floods in Niger in July and August this year led to the deaths of at least 52 people and affected more than 400,000, according to the government. Provisional figures for Senegal in late August indicated at least 16 deaths in since the start of this year's rainy season.
"In Senegal corruption is one of the reasons for this state of affairs because works that are carried out have in many cases not gone through a bidding process," says Mouhamadou Mbodj, coordinator of Forum Civil, the Senegalese chapter of Transparency International.
This is no less true in Niger, according to political observer Ibrahim Abdoulaye, who says many dams built during the presidency of Mamadou Tandja - overthrown in a military coup in 2010 - showed a lack of preparation in their construction.
"That is all the more so since many of them have given way under the pressure of heavy rainfall in the last few weeks," he says.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin have also been affected in differing degrees by recent floods.
The big question that many want answered is why governments wait for disaster to strike before taking action. No country in this region of Africa has yet produced an effective flood prevention plan.
One hypothesis is a lack of accountability for the resources generated when countries respond to these crises, a problem that also applies to many non-government organisations. The result is that ordinary people like Issa Ali and his family have little knowledge of how much money is received on their behalf, and even less about how it is used.


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