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West Africa Steps Up Flood Response Ahead of Rainy Season

Horse cart drivers transport goods and passengers through deep flood waters in Sicap Mbao, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009

The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the effort to prepare for this year's rainy season in West Africa, after extreme flooding in the region last year displaced hundreds of thousands.

Devastating floods swept through West Africa in 2009, killing more than 100 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more in 16 countries.

As this year's rainy season draws closer, efforts are being stepped up to prepare for the worst. The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading the preparation effort.

A Red Cross' spokesman, Moustapha Diallo, attended flood preparation talks earlier this month in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

He said this year's aim is to bring emergency aid to affected areas more quickly and save more lives.

Last year, Senegal's government poured $4 million into the emergency response effort, re-housing flood victims on higher ground. But many of those affected said the government's response was not fast enough.

More than 264,000 people were displaced in Dakar and in the towns of Thies, Kaolack, Kaffrine, Kolda and Saint-Louis. Hundreds of thousands more were affected in Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Benin, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Diallo said West and Central Africa is susceptible to the effects of climate change. Some experts predict low-lying parts of the region, including areas of the Senegalese capital Dakar, could be underwater within the next 100 years.

He said 2.5 million people were affected by the floods last year.

He said that in Burkina Faso last year, more than 150,000 people were uprooted following the heaviest rainfall in 90 years in the country's capital, Ouagadougou. Diallo said most of those affected have been rehoused.

Though this year's weather patterns are not yet known, he said NGOs and emergency relief organizations will be better-equipped to respond to heavy rains this year. Meteorological predictions for West Africa are expected at the end of this month.