Thursday 30 August 2012
Niger has worst floods in 100 yearsPhotograph taken from a ShelterBox deployment to Niger in 2010: A makeshift flood barrier provided protection and access to one family home during the floods in Niamey.
A ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) is in Niger assessing the need for emergency shelter following extreme flooding over the past month that has left thousands of families homeless.
Reports say it is the worst flooding seen in nearly 100 years in the West African country.
At the beginning of August, rains moved north from Burkina Faso to Niger, falling over one day in the mountains in the north and running down into the southern region of Dosso.
A week later, up to 227 millimeters of rain fell overnight, which is half a year's rainfall. The water ran through tributaries into the River Niger, causing severe flooding in the regions of Tillabery in the north and the capital, Niamey, flooding the city's suburbs.
The United Nations (UN) reported the Dosso region has been worst affected, with over 10,000 homes damaged by floodwaters.
Without shelter and food
To date, the floods have destroyed 14,000 homes and 7,000 crop fields across the country, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), leaving many of the country's poorest families without shelter and food.
With Niger already dealing with food insecurity across the Sahel region, the Malian refugee crisis, a cholera outbreak along the River Niger basin, and a locust invasion, its capacity to respond to the flooding has been severely restricted.
Consequently, President Mahamadou Issou has called for international help after pledging 1,400 tons of food and over one million dollars of aid money for flood survivors.
Photograph taken by Tom Lay during ShelterBox's response to floods in Niger in 2010: Clothes are washed in the flood water of the River Niger.
SRT members Mike Freeman (US) and Fiona McElroy (UK) arrived on Sunday evening to meet with OCHA and the local government, which is coordinating a national response.
"We met with Gaston Kaba, a Rotarian we have worked with on previous Niger deployments," said Fiona. "He has been helping us with local contacts, transport and has been acting as our translator.
"We have had meetings with OCHA, Oxfam, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), the Prime Minister's Office and Niamey authorities, to discuss a response plan to the floods as well as the Malian refugee crisis."
The SRT visited Niger's capital on Monday. Flooding was visible and villages along the riverbanks were destroyed. Families who had been living there are now taking refuge in schools.
Villages can't be seen
"The River Niger in Niamey is at least two meters (over six feet) higher than normal so it has breached its banks spreading up to 200 meters inland in places," said Mike. "Families had built along the riverbanks and planted rice crops, which have now all gone. Many villages are completely covered by water and can't be seen.
"The annual seasonal peak of the river is in December following the rainy season, which hasn't begun yet so this amount of rainfall is very unusual for this time of year."
Further need assessments will be made in Tillabery and Dosso. Many areas of Tillabery are still inaccessible and 246 villages disappeared underwater in Dosso.
"The capital, Niamey, is a built up urban area so it is hard to find locations for suitable sites to set up tents where people will be willing to go," said Fiona. "We need to find areas close to their homes and where other nongovernmental organizations will support people with water, light, security, food and sanitation. We will be visiting some sites proposed by the government over the next few days."