Caught Off Guard

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By Angela Mutiso

“Recent Events Signal a Clear Need to Refocus Efforts on Flood Prevention, Not Just Response”

Recent floods have starkly exposed a lack of preparedness among several communities, resulting in distressing scenes of death, displacement, and widespread destruction.

 Since the flooding began, these alarming conditions have become the prevailing reality. It has been clear that disaster preparedness is lacking and we must find a way to effectively manage the floods.  

When floods keep coming and the same areas keep getting flooded, it tells us that something is amiss.

(Disaster preparedness refers to the measures and actions taken in advance to ensure effective response and recovery from natural or man-made disasters. It involves planning, resource allocation, training, and awareness-raising activities aimed at minimizing the adverse effects of disasters on communities and individuals).

 This should include building and maintaining evacuation routes and shelters to guarantee an instant and structured response to unanticipated floods. Additionally, educating communities about risks associated with surging waters and how to prepare themselves for such contingencies can improve individual and collective resilience to flooding.

NSSL NOAA (National Severe Storms Laboratory) describes flooding as an overflow of water onto normally dry land. Floods can happen during heavy rains, when ocean waves come on shore, when snow melts quickly, or when dams or levees break. Damaging flooding may occur with only a few inches of water or cover a house to the rooftop.

Who is at risk?

 NSSL explains that densely populated areas are at a high risk for flash floods. Runoff increases since the earth absorbs less rainwater when houses, roads, driveways, and parking lots are constructed. This runoff increases the possibility of flash floods.

 It is important to note that there are times when streams through cities and towns are routed underground into storm drains. During heavy rain, the storm drains can become overwhelmed or blocked by debris and flood the roads and buildings nearby. Low spots, such as underpasses, underground parking garages, basements, and low-water crossings, can become death traps.

What happened? What measures should be taken?

In early May 2024, it was reported (by Kenyan Wall Street) that East African countries experiencing flooding, landslides, and widespread destruction that has resulted in loss of lives and property were expecting the severe rainfall to continue that week. It further pointed out that 16,909 households in Nairobi alone were relocated in March, based on government figures. 131, 450 individuals from more than 24,000 homes had been forced to relocate. Over 170 people had already died in Tanzania as a result of landslides and flooding, according to the Prime Minister of that nation. 

 The IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) states that governments and regional organizations must prepare for the longer-term implications of heavy rainfall, which is not a short-term issue, and respond immediately.

According to the IGD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC). The significant downpour has caused economic disruption in the impacted areas, especially in the vital agriculture sector, which may lead to a food shortfall later in the year. 

Africa Renewal, says more emphasis should be put on prevention. The UN warns nations to develop comprehensive plans for anticipating and responding to floods to reduce their effects through planning ahead, coordinating preventive measures, and accelerating reaction times. Relief organizations could plan the delivery of supplies more efficiently using such programmes. 

The Director of the World Bank’s African Sustainable Development Division, Jamal Saghir, states, “Recent events signal a clear need to refocus efforts on flood prevention, not just response.” 

Dewald van Niekerk, Director of African Disaster Studies at North-West University in South Africa says unpredictable weather patterns are here to stay. “Our work in pre-disaster preparation needs to change…” he asserts. “People need to understand why it floods.  He adds that an early warning system or an engineering solution might exist. 

 Meanwhile, Muhammad Sani Sidi, the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, claims that most states lack fire trucks, ambulances, or both.

It was also reported that corruption is a significant reason for this in Senegal. Since jobs done have, in many cases, not gone through a bidding process,” substandard dams collapsed “under the pressure of heavy rainfall.

The shortage of prevention and mitigation measures in Nigeria, Niger and Senegal mirrors the situation in most other West African countries. “Why wait for disaster to strike before taking action?” poses journalist Mohamane Mourtala Moussa in Niger. “No country in this region of Africa has yet produced an effective flood prevention plan.”

By the time of going to press, it had been reported that victims of flooding in West Africa had not yet received pledges from international organizations and civil society leaders about programmes to prevent or mitigate future flooding. 

On the brighter side

 African News meanwhile, observes that some African countries have become more proactive in disaster management. South Africa passed a Disaster Management Act in 2002 that mandates national, provincial, and municipal authorities to develop plans, including for prevention and mitigation.

In 2012, authorities in Côte d’Ivoire took pre-emptive measures by ordering 6,000 families in flood-prone areas of Abidjan, the capital, to relocate and giving them $300 each to do so. The move saved lives. Fiacre Kili, the Director of the National Office for Civilian Protection, says, “Previous rainy seasons have caused deaths in certain districts because of landslides, rockfalls, and flooding. … We have taken measures to ensure no human life is lost.”

 How about food security?

Food security may not be the first thing that comes to many people’s minds when considering climate change. However, it is very real now that floods have wreaked havoc on farms, homes, and roads and led to several deaths and displacements. 

 Severe flooding in East Africa has increased, and the already dire humanitarian situation has worsened, leaving millions of people needing assistance, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC).  A report by Africa News notes that Shashwat Saraf, East Africa Emergency Director at IRC, while explaining the growing crisis and its devastating impact on vulnerable communities, says briefly that, even before the floods, an estimated 15 million people in East Africa were dealing with food insecurity. Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya had undergone a long drought, marked by five failed rains, displacing millions and aggravating food shortages. 

The floods have also affected an additional 3.1 million people. Saraf observes that Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya have suffered severe flooding, with Somalia alone witnessing 1.7 million people directly impacted.

 Further, these countries have suffered agricultural loss and livestock risks, and over 1.5 million hectares of land in Somalia have been submerged due to flooding.  

Vector-borne diseases are emerging and affecting livestock. Communities will have to be rebuilt, shelter provided, and agricultural activities revived as soon as possible.

 What mitigation measures can be taken to deal with floods? 

Recommendations

Planting trees and restoring wetlands and forests to reduce runoff is essential, and building codes should be adhered to. Restoration of wetlands can help absorb flood waters. Building dams and floodwalls along rivers can contain flood waters, while constructing and maintaining urban drainage systems can minimize flooding. Excess water in urban areas can be redirected this way. 

 Investing in advanced meteorological and hydrological monitoring systems can provide early warnings of potential floods, enabling timely evacuations and preparations. Besides, incorporating sustainable urban planning practices like green roofs, penetrable pavements, and rain gardens can lessen surface runoff and mitigate urban flooding.

Food for thought; Before undertaking any construction, it  is prudent  take time to do some research and to contact expertsto ensure that you are not building on wetlands and that your structures will be stable where they are.

The writer is the editorial consultant of the Accountant Journal. [email protected]

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