CRS staff survey damage as families leave behind their flooded homes in Niamey, Niger. Photo by Mahaman Souradja/CRS
Extremely heavy rainfall in August caused flooding all over Niger, swelling the Niger River to its highest level in a century and destroying many villages along its border. Tens of thousands of homes have collapsed, infrastructure and businesses have been damaged, and crops destroyed.
“The floods have come on the heels of a devastating drought that has caused a food crisis across Africa’s Sahel region this year, including Niger,” says Bill Rastetter, CRS Country Representative in Niger. “In addition to dangerously low food levels because of bad harvests, people now find themselves without shelter and at the risk of waterborne diseases.”
“When the rains arrive at the end of the dry season, they come in storms, and the barren ground is unable to absorb the water quickly enough,” he explains.
CRS is distributing relief items and installing sanitation facilities in and around schools, where many of the displaced have sought refuge.
More than 18 million people across the Sahel region, including Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Cameroon and northern Nigeria, have been affected by the food crisis brought on by poor harvests and rising food prices. The flooding is worsening the situation.
In Niger, the flooding has contributed to an increase in malaria and diarrhea, and a spike in cholera cases, particularly in the Tillabéri region along the Niger River. Dozens of cholera cases have been recorded there, and immediate action is needed to prevent its spread.
Flood survivors use donkeys and push-carts to save what is left from their flooded homes. Photo by Mahaman Souradja/CRS
CRS is distributing mosquito nets, kitchen kits, blankets, mats and other essential items to 1,500 families in Niamey, Niger’s capital, and is installing 24 hand-washing stations and 48 temporary showers to improve the hygienic situation of those now staying in schools. With students returning for the new school year, relief workers are looking for alternative shelter for families. In addition to staying in schools, many of the displaced have been taken in by ‘host’ families.
“After an initial scrambling for shelter and safety, the hospitable people of Niger are taking many people into their homes as family, friends, or just good neighbors,” Rastetter said.
Heavy seasonal rains and flooding have also occurred in other West African countries, including Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin and Chad. In Sierra Leone, CRS is responding to a cholera outbreak that has killed 240 people since the beginning of the year. The United Nations has warned that the current cholera emergency in West Africa is set to worsen as poor sanitation brought on by heavy rains and floods creates the conditions for the disease to spread.
“In spite of the flood damage, overall the abundant rainfall in Niger this year is a blessing which will mean overall a good harvest over the coming weeks, alleviating some of the food crisis many have experienced,” Rastetter said