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Africa

Massive floods mean more misery for Niger's poor

media The remnants of a home destroyed by the flooding in Boubon, Niger. Laura Angela Bagnetto

Torrential rains have swept away crops, tools and homes in Niger, a landlocked country that was already in the throes of a major food shortage. The Meteorological Centre at the Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey reports 161 mm of rain fell over the weekend, as people continue to evacuate some areas near the River Niger.

Boubon village chief Baidari Abdou still can't believe it.

"I'm 75 years old," he says. "I have never seen anything like it in my life."

He's talking about the heavy rainfall that hit his village, washing away 18 canoes, fishing equipment and 53 homes. The Niger River runs alongside Boubon, in the Tillabéry region outside the capital, Niamey.

Their vegetable gardens and rice fields are flooded, too, and the most of their crops are under water and unsalvageable.

Severe flooding has caused yet another crisis across Niger and people living along the banks of the Niger River are among the hardest hit.

"Even last night I slept outside my home with my children," says Zali Katou Maman, the president of the women's cooperative of the Boubon union, adding that the walls of her mud-brick house already have cracks.

Sitting on a mat outside her home, she cradles one child in her arms while another leans against her, only 20 metres from the water.

Maman estimates she has lost 115,000 central African francs, or 175 euros - money that should have fed her six children who are still living at home.

"The water went up to my chest. Everything I have worked for is gone. I hope the water will go down, and then I can plant my garden again,” she says.

Her neighbours have already packed up their things and left.

Luckily, no one has died in Boubon but they did find three bodies that had floated downstream from Zamkora and Kosa villages.

Click to enlarge
Zali Katou Maman, the president of the women's cooperative of the Boubon union. She sleeps outside because she is afraid her house will fall down. Laura Angela Bagnetto

Villagers are still talking about the floods of 2010, which also destroyed parts of the village. Flooding is not so common, but food shortages are, and the village, whose inhabitants are farmers and fishermen, have created safeguards to protect their children from hunger.

Moriben, a federation of Niger's farmers' unions, in Niger has set up several projects  to help the Boubon residents help themselves.

Moriben means "misery is finished" in the djerma language. 

Tinni Gibow, a Moriben activist and technical adviser, says that the union is stretched to its limit while trying to help the 19 villages affected by the floods.

The mayor of the area was supposed to visit the affected villagers but he refused to come.

“He said there was too much water,” says Gibow. “He could have at least met with people to give them comfort."

With the help of Moriben, they have created a grain depot. Each family contributes five kilos and for 500 francs, they can have a day’s ration of cereals for their family during a crisis-- like this one.

Sani Abou, the head of the grain bank, lost all six of his homes where he lived with his three wives and six children. He has moved his family into the grain bank.

Boubon, Niger: the story of one village hit by floods 24/08/2012 - by Laura Angela Bagnetto Listen

“I have to stay here. I can't leave. with my wives and children? Where would I go?”

The majority of the 53 villagers have gone to higher ground in home of others in the area. Those remaining in the village but still on dry land are scared. More rain is predicted.

Back in Niamey Moriben secretary general Mahamadou Issoufou says that this is just the latest crisis for the Niger River villages.

The flooding is a result of the combination of extremely sandy soil and Niger's habitually intense rainfall, says Dr. Manava Sivkumar of the UN Meteorological Association. He spent 14 years in Niger and has seen 100mm of rainfall occur in Niamey in an hour. Niamey’s annual rainfall is 500mm a year.

Flash rains have affected not only the Tillabéry area, but Niamey and even up north, in the Agadez region.

“You could have conditions where the runoff on the soil is enhanced very quickly. And that contributes to the floods we see in Niger,” Sivkumar tells RFI. “The frequency and magnitude is also increasing due to climate change."

Issoufou is carrying out evaluations this week for Boubon and the 19 other villages affected in the Tillabéry region. Moriben will come up with an action plan to present to the government and their other NGO partners, such as Oxfam, to help those hardest hit by the floods.

Additional reporting by Rosslyn Hyams.

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