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Red Cross Appeals for Early Action in West Africa Flood Relief

Weather forecasts predicting heavy rains across West and Central Africa have prompted the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to launch an appeal to help communities prepare before floods hit.

Severe flooding across West and Central Africa has affected more than 150,000 people since the rainy season started in June, and regional weather forecasts predict more heavy rain and storms.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is asking for $850,000 to support preparedness and early-warning measures in 16 high-risk countries across West and Central Africa.

Disaster Preparedness Manager at the Federation's Dakar office, Jerry Niati, says risk-reduction and early-warning systems need to be reinforced before flooding occurs.

"The idea is not just to wait for the floods to happen, but we really want to be pro-active in preparing communities based on last year's experience when we worked on the flood preparedness appeal, which worked out so well," he said.

Niati says the "Early Warning, Early Action" approach is essential to saving lives. Giving people time to react to disasters and prepare themselves in advance is important. It has also proven to be cost effective.

Flooding has killed thousands of people across West and Central Africa during the past few years. In 2007, the region experienced its worst flood disaster in decades, displacing families, destroying homes and crops and washing away infrastructure.

This year, Niati hopes funding will come early enough to train volunteers, get emergency relief stocks out and have disaster-response teams ready.

He says West African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate-related disasters like flooding and drought.

"Sometimes it is like they are forgotten disasters because they happen at a slow rate, they are very unsexy disasters and people do not really pay attention to that," said Niati.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched a separate appeal for the Central African Republic to help 6,000 people at risk during the rainy season.