The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it is worried that countries in West and Central Africa could be hit by the same kind of intense flooding this year that devastated the region last year.  The Red Cross is launching a preliminary emergency appeal for $730,000 to take preparatory measures that could head-off some of the worst effects.    Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

Meteorologists are warning countries in West and Central Africa to brace for a second year of severe flooding.   Nothing is certain in the world of weather predictions, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is sufficiently worried to take measures now to prepare for the worst.

Last year, severe flooding destroyed the lives and livelihoods of more than 800,000 people and indirectly affected 15 million people, in a wide swathe of countries from West to East Africa.  

Red Cross Operations Coordinator for Africa Niels Scott tells VOA he is afraid a similar disaster to that which caused dams to burst in 2007 could reoccur this year.

"We can have the same type of flooding, where peoples' livelihoods are devastated, their crops are ruined, their houses are destroyed, they are displaced and they are looking again at a planting season which is being completely ruined," he said. "We may have 100,000 people affected.  We may have, like last year, millions of people affected.  It is too early to call.  But, I think if we have the same type of flooding, it will be devastating.  We at the International Red Cross are very worried." 

Last year, floods hit 15 African countries.  This year, meteorologists predict about five or six countries in the lower Sahel region will be affected.  They include northern Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and some countries in the northern part of Central Africa.

Scott says once the floods come, aid workers will have to spring into action immediately.   He says, in  the first phase, people whose homes become submerged by rain will have to be physically moved to safer areas. 

And, in the second phase, he says people who have lost everything and who are vulnerable to malaria and other diseases will need emergency relief.

He says heavy rains will render many roads impassable, cutting victims off from receiving timely assistance.   He says the Red Cross plans to pre-position goods, food and emergency stocks in different sites.

"If we are able to get equipment to people, to give them shelter, if we are able to make sure they get clean water so they do not have to suffer from diarrheal disease, for example.  If we are able to make sure that they have got mosquito nets," added Scott. "That means that while they are affected, it does not get worse.  And, that means that what is already a tragedy does not become a larger tragedy in the week that follows the flooding." 

Scott says a large international appeal will be launched after the extent of any devastation from the expected floods is known.  In the meantime, he says money from the preliminary appeal will allow the Red Cross to buy relief items, food and emergency goods and stock them in Senegal, Ghana and Cameroon.