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June 13, 2013

West Africa Bracing for Harsh Rainy Season

by Jennifer Lazuta

As the rainy season begins in West and Central Africa, meteorological experts are warning of above average rainfall, flash floods and overflowing rivers in the western Sahel.   Aid agencies say that early preparation is key to reducing the risks associated with such natural disasters, as well as building up people’s resilience to deal with the aftermath. 

Experts from the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) say that rainfall in West and Central Africa could exceed 130 percent of normal precipitation this year.

The chief of ACMAD’s Department of Climate and Environment, Andrea Kamga, said the monsoon rains are likely to begin close to the normal onset period - which is late June to early July in the western Sahel region - but are likely to be heavier than usual this year.

“The area where we are expecting an increase in the number of heavy rain events  is Zone 1, which covers southern Mauritania, Senegal, northern Guinea, Conakry, all the way to southern Mali, most of Burkina Faso and the western part of Niger,” said Kamga.

Last year, flooding in the region affected more than three million people. The majority of flood victims were in Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Senegal.

The United Nation’s Regional Emergency Response Advisor for West and Central Africa, Laurent Dufour, said that governments and aid agencies are not only gearing up ahead of the rains this year, but also putting in place long-term strategies for reducing flood risk.

“This year a lot more countries are taking extra measures to prepare for the rainy season because they have been greatly affected by last year’s floods.  In particular, Nigeria has already taken steps as early as February by releasing a seasonal outlook.  Other countries have also been active in clearing up drainage canals and improving the flow of water," said Dufour.

Dufour said that in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, for example, more than six kilometers of drainage channels have already been cleared and made operational again.

He said that in Dakar, Senegal, authorities are also working to clear drainage systems, as well as planning for the relocation of thousands of families who live in high-risk flood areas.

For those people in the region who can’t or won’t relocate, Dufour said that aid agencies are currently working to improve their ability to cope with possible floods.

He noted this includes short-term measures, such as rebuilding or fortifying homes and preparing emergency disaster kits, and long-term ones, such as teaching people to adapt to shorter crop cycles in order to reduce the impact of floods on agricultural output.

Despite these efforts, West Africa still faces many challenges when it comes to dealing with heavy rains.

“Because of rapid urban growth, because of rapid third world demographics, areas which were traditionally not being used for settlement - for housing - are increasingly being occupied by newcomers. These people may not be aware of the pattern of events, in particular floods, in that area. But they are very much exposed and they don’t have much opportunity or choices to find better or more suitable places to live," said the advisor.

Dufour said authorities across the region must now work on improving land use and land planning.

In the meantime, ACMAD’s Kamga urges governments and aid agencies to continue to closely monitor meteorological reports for the most up-to-date weather predictions.