Benin: Rebuilding from storms to begin

News and Press Release
Originally published
DAKAR, 11 May 2009 (IRIN) - Hundreds of people displaced by severe April storms in the Collines region 200km north of the business capital, Cotonou, are expected to receive construction materials from the Red Cross of Benin, to begin home and school repairs.

Violent winds and rainstorms displaced more than 800 people in late April when their homes were destroyed. They are now staying with other family members, said Blandine Babadankpodgi, the head of Red Cross's disaster relief team in Benin.

Winds tore part of the roof off one of two primary schools in the Challa Ogoï village in late April, affecting 300 students who have temporarily joined other classes. "We were then completely exposed to the rains," said teacher Bienvenue Babacoundé, who told IRIN everything in his classroom has been destroyed. "There are no more chalkboards or textbooks. It was all soaked."

He said the school was spared damage in previous years' storms.

Red Cross's Babadankpodgi told IRIN school officials will try to finish the repairs by the end of May in advance of scheduled 2 June year-end exams. "Classes are now overflowing and teachers are forced to teach students from different [class] levels in one school room," she said.

Farmer Lucien Chabi told IRIN the storms destroyed what he just planted for the 2009 harvest. "My field was spared last year while neighbours' fields were hit. But this year, the storms washed away all the maize and peanuts I have planted," said Chabi. He said in 2008 he harvested 30 100-kilogram bags of maize and enough peanuts to fill 18 bags.

Chabi told IRIN he sold the maize at US$44 per bag and peanuts at $50 per bag. "But this year, without my crops, I am leaving it in God's hands," said Chabi.

Disaster worker Babadankpodgi told IRIN that while windstorms and flooding cannot be prevented, the region's storm warning system and better building constructions can help minimise damage. "Even when there is no rain, the poor soil quality and Sahelian climate [with strong winds] leaves this area permanently at risk."

"We need to improve the quality of buildings here so they are more resistant and can withstand perennial Sahelian windstorms," added Babadankpodgi.

She told IRIN Red Cross volunteers are also in the process of instructing people to purify drinking water - often polluted rain - to prevent a cholera outbreak during the rainy season, which typically starts in June and continues up to October.