DAKAR (AlertNet) – Benin is taking steps to ensure there is less devastation from seasonal floods this year as rainfall forecasts suggest the country is at high risk of flooding between now and October, an official said.
Eugene Hountondji, who is in charge of disaster management in the interior ministry, said authorities have carried out awareness campaigns across the country to advise people living in wetlands and swamps to move to higher ground during the rainy season.
The government has also prepositioned stocks of medicine, first aid kits, tents and trained personnel who can respond when floods hit communities in the country.
“We hope to provide rapid assistance as needed and we also hope to see a drop in the death toll, as well as less destruction than in 2010,” Hountondji told AlertNet in Dakar.
Last year 680,000 people were uprooted from their homes and more than 40 others were killed after heavy rains led to the worst flooding in the small West African nation since 1963.
Floods are common in Benin where rivers often swell in the rainy season but some experts say the scale of last year’s flooding was bigger and could be related to climate change.
Heavy rains that started in June have already caused severe flooding in some municipalities causing homes built with earth to collapse. As part of the contingency plans, local mayors have constructed tents for 500 households which were hit by the floods.
“We have identified places which are on high ground where we can pitch tents we prepositioned to house displaced people in flood-prone areas,” said Hountondji, who heads the safety and civil protection training service in the interior ministry.
Disaster management authorities have urged mayors to prevent people from building on waterways and exits. They have also been asked to supervise the construction of houses to ensure there are solid foundations and walls as part or risk-reduction schemes developed with international aid agencies, he said.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (IFRC) says despite early warning systems and monitoring in 22 municipalities that are most prone to repeated flooding, the extent of the recent flooding has been overwhelming.
“The flood within the Federal Capital, Cotonou, forced residents out of their homes to the road side, as well as in schools which are now overcrowded, with the possibility of resulting epidemics if necessary actions are not taken,” the IFRC said in a statement.
The floods destroyed pipes that supply safe drinking water and contaminated wells rendering water unfit for consumption. Some families are forced to consume stream and even flood water exposing them to serious water and diarrhoeal diseases, the IFRC warned.
The IFRC has allocated $215,860 from its disaster relief emergency fund to provide help to 5,000 people in Benin based on forecasts of heavy rainfall and flooding by the African Centre for Meteorological Applications (ACMAD).