Flooding in the Sahel leaves thousands of families facing uncertain futures

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Armed with a single bucket, Amy Gueye tries to scoop out the waters that have overtaken her completely flooded home. Like many others in Wakhinane Nimzatt, in the suburbs of Dakar, the Senegalese capital, she had hoped for a lull in the rain to get rid of the water. But her efforts come to nothing as, unusually, persistent and recurrent rains continue to deluge her neighbourhood and many regions across the Sahel, causing huge losses for thousands of families.

Resigned and powerless, Gueye thinks for the first time about ​​leaving the house in which she was born.

"It is very difficult to live with all the water. I am completely exhausted and I lost almost all my possessions," she says.

Since August, severe floods have been reported in many countries across the Sahel, particularly in Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. According to assessments conducted by authorities and Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, more than 300,000 people have been affected. Houses, roads, public infrastructure, food reserves and crops have all been lost.

As flooding continues, fears are growing about the impact on the upcoming harvest, particularly in Niger where thousands of hectares of farmland have been swept away.

“The damage to crops and the widespread destruction of grain stores in Niger have left many communities facing an uncertain future,” says Naziha Moussaoui, food security delegate at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Dakar.

The situation is considered just as serious in many other countries even though the extent of damage varies from one region to another.

“An estimated 11.3 million people remain severely food insecure across the Sahel and what is extremely worrisome is that some regions in some countries hardest hit by the flooding are those which were also affected by the food crisis in 2012,” says Moussaoui. “We are extremely concerned about what could be a long period of food insecurity for some vulnerable families.”

Health is also a major concern in the countries hit by the flooding. Many people are living in flooded houses in stifling heat and terrible sanitary conditions, exposed to the risks posed by waterborne diseases. The situation is particularly serious in Dakar where, in addition to flooding, people are ironically facing a dire water shortage. A broken pipeline has left 40 per cent of the population – an estimated 3 million people – searching for clean water to drink.

Two weeks after the pipeline burst, many residents are resorting to using water from wells or backwater, increasing the risk of further disease outbreaks.

“Tap water no longer flows in our neighbourhood and we don’t have money to pay 2 US dollars just for 10 litres of drinkable water. It will be not enough for the entire family, that’s why we collect water from the backwater. We know it is not safe, but we don’t have any other choice,” says Gueye.