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Red Cross rescue operations continue for more than 300,000 residents of Senegal and Burkina Faso, who have been uprooted by torrential rains since July. Last week, five American Red Cross flood relief specialists toured the two countries. They surveyed crop destruction and are carrying out food need assessments for 65,000 of the neediest victims in the two countries. 14 other West and Central African countries have also been hit by the excessive rainy season.
Coordinators with the Spanish Red Cross have been distributing blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans for storing drinking water, purification tablets, soap, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets to guard against malaria. Head of the Spanish Red Cross’ disaster management unit international department, Inigo Vila Guerra, reports that rains have caused mud houses to wash away, sending rural residents to sturdier accommodations in larger, water-logged urban centers.
“In the big cities, it’s just a matter of time of waiting for the level of the water to decrease and to give them again new utilities and basic items. In the villages, it takes more time, as the houses are more damaged because one of the main items for these structures is mud. So to rehabilitate takes more time,” he explained.
Schools and civic centers in West African urban centers have been transformed into shelters for the homeless, while other flood victims rely on the kindness of relatives and friends for basic needs. Inigo Vila Guerra advises that the magnitude of this year’s water fall may be greater than usual, but West Africans are not strangers to heavy rainy seasons.
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“It is not really new for them. We are in the rainy season in Africa. Of course, we are facing more than the previous years. But for them, it’s common, these types of situations. We will reallocate and we will try to rehabilitate and take them back to their normal life as soon as possible, but we don’t know exactly how much time it’s going to take,” he cautioned.
One drawback of managing the flood emergency is a relative lack of visibility in the press and the electronic media. Consequently, says Vila Guerra, outside funding is not pouring in rapidly enough, and relief agencies must dip deeply into their reserve funds to furnish provisions. However, he says the time needed for recovery will depend less on provisions and more on the weather and the length of the rainy season.
“If it rains too much, it’s going to take time to get back. Normally it’s a cycle to the rainy season. They are not expecting now to plant anything. But if the level of the water remains longer than usual, then we pass over the time, and there’s going to be a problem. Right now, we are not in that problem, but let’s see how the level of this water operation evolves,” he suggests.
Right now, since West African farmers are not engaged in planting during the rainy season, food shortages are not the key issue to rehabilitation. Vila Guerra says that recovery is dependent right now upon non-food items and shelter. He praises local government in the hard-hit African countries, who he says are working closely with relief agencies to help people find higher ground.
Inigo Vila Guerra says that forecasters believe West Africa’s rainy season may persist into October this year, with heavy precipitation expected toward the end of September.