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Floods in West Africa: Nigeria and beyond

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #34 & 35, Vol. 1, No. 34 & 35
25 October 2022


Floods in West Africa: Nigeria and beyond
The gravity of floods in Nigeria has brought forth a larger problem in West and Central Africa, comprising of climate change and poor urban planning.

By Apoorva Sudhakar

With over 600 deaths and 1.3 million displaced, Nigeria is one of the worst flood-hit countries in West Africa in 2022. On 21 October, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern over the devastation that impacted 34 of Nigeria’s 36 states, leaving over 200,000 houses destroyed, fully or partially. UNICEF said 60 per cent of Nigerians who required assistance were children prone to waterborne illnesses, drowning and malnourishment.  
However, floods are not limited to Nigeria. The World Food Programme outlines that 19 countries in West and Central Africa experienced above-average rainfall in 2022, affecting over five million people. The countries most affected include the Central African Republic, the Gambia, Nigeria, Chad, Sao Tome & Principe, and Sierra Leone. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the situation is worse than in 2021, when flooding affected 1.2 million people across 13 countries in the region, and left around 28 million people food insecure.
An overview
According to WFP, around 35,000 people have been affected due to heavy rainfall since July in the Central African Republic. Similarly, in late October, Chad declared a state of emergency after over a million people were affected and croplands destroyed amidst the country’s worst floods in 30 years. The Gambia recorded its highest rainfall at 276mm in August, breaking the previous record of 175.4mm in 1998. Lastly, the scale of the latest floods in Nigeria was similar to the 2012 floods when at least 363 people died as 32 of the 36 states were affected, leaving 2.1 million people internally displaced.
Floods in the region, however, are not uncommon. UNESCO’s World Water Development Report 2020 report estimates that Africa witnessed 676 floods from 2001 to 2018, second only to Asia; in the time period, Africa also accounted for the second highest casualties at 13,106 deaths, with 43 million people affected.
Three factors: High rainfall, unplanned urbanisation, and inefficient storage structures
First, increased frequency of high rainfall. The Economist outlines that unusually heavy rainfalls have been frequent over the last three decades. Quoting a study by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, it says the heavy rains can be attributed to deforestation along the coasts of West Africa; the study observed that the number of afternoon rainstorms in the deforested areas had doubled since the 1990s, against the increase by a third in areas that retained forests. In 2021, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said West and Central Africa could witness heavy precipitation and pluvial flooding as global warming increases.
Second, unplanned urbanisation. Similar to any developing country, West African countries have undergone rapid urbanisation without efficient planning and an inadequate drainage system. A study, “Flooding in Nigeria and Ghana: opportunities for partnerships in disaster-risk reduction” published by Taylor & Francis takes the case of the two countries with frequent flooding. The study observed that rapid urbanisation and expansion of cities has led to shrinking vegetative cover that acted as an absorbent for water. Further, the region is home to informal settlements with poorly built and mostly open drains incapable of containing rainwater, thereby leading to frequent flooding.
Third, inefficient storage structures. Several dams in West Africa are unable to contain the increasing rainfall over the last few years, leading to flooding of homes in the locality. For example, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the current flooding was worsened by the release of water from its own Kainji and Jebba dams and Cameroon’s Lagdo dam. The World Economic Forum opined that despite the necessity to have a buffer dam in Nigeria since Lagdo’s completion in 1982, the country does not have one, thereby making it difficult to prevent the flow of excess water. Similarly, in Ghana, spillage from the Weijja dam led to the displacement of over a thousand people in the capital city in 2022.
In perspective
First, concerns over food security. ABC News quoted the national president of Nigeria’s local farmers associations saying several farmers had lost at least 75 per cent of what they sowed this year to the floods. Farmlands have been destroyed in Cameroon and Niger as well, thereby raising concerns over food security; slow recovery from the economic slowdown post COVID-19 also complicates the process.
Second, Nigeria’s crises. The floods and the resultant displacement add to the challenge of displacement prevalent in Nigeria, especially in the northern regions. The displacement from flooding adds to the number of people already displaced due to conflict and violent extremism by armed groups and terrorist organisations like Boko Haram and the Islamic State.
Third, lack of regional mitigation measures. The ongoing floods over the past couple of months has brought to light the lack of or minimal regional efforts to mitigate the impacts. For example, despite Cameroon planning the release of excess water earlier, Nigeria was unable to cope with the impact, thereby signalling a lack of coordination and capacity between the two countries. UNESCO believes an early warning system for the region would assist the region.
Fourth, the impact of climate change. Despite being some of the least contributors to climate change, African countries bear the brunt of it. Further, the entire Sahel belt passing through some of the critically impacted countries is termed one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change; resource conflicts and displacement due to climate change is a common occurrence here.
Fifth, Africa’s two extremes. On the one hand, West and Central Africa are experiencing irreparable damage due to floods. On the other hand, East Africa is going through one of the worst droughts in decades, leaving millions at risk of death by starvation, especially in Somalia and Ethiopia.

11 October – 25 October 
By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar

Government forces enters Tigray
On 18 October, the Ethiopian government said that the military had taken control of three towns from TPLF rebel forces in Tigray. The government statement said: “The ENDF (Ethiopian National Defence Force) has taken control of the towns of Shire, Alamata and Korem without fighting in urban areas.” Earlier, the Tigrayan rebel forces said that the government forces and their allies had entered Tigray's Shire city, adding that they continue to engage in a “life and death struggle.” The Tigrayan authorities said: “If we don't defend ourselves against our enemies, they will continue the atrocities.” (“Ethiopian army captures several towns in war-torn Tigray,” Al Jazeera, 18 October 2022)
Nine killed in attack in Kismayo
On 23 October, nine civilians were killed and 47 injured in an attack in Kismayo city in southern Somalia. The security minister for Jubbaland said the security forces killed three gunmen and the fourth attacker died in a bomb blast. The attack was claimed by al Shabab; the group’s military operation spokesperson said they intended to target the Jubbaland administrators working at the hotel. (“Attack on hotel in Somalia’s Kismayo ends with 9 civilians dead,” Al Jazeera, 23 October 2022)
Military leader appoints former opposition leader as PM
On 12 October, President General Mahamat Deby appointed former opposition figure Saleh Kebzabo as the prime minister. Kebzabo defended his decision to accept the appointment and said he believes that Deby is "a young man who believes in democracy." Kebzabo was a strong opponent to Gen Deby’s father and former president Idriss Deby. The latest development comes after Deby was sworn in as the president on 10 October, on a promise to establish civilian rule in Chad, when the national dialogue approved a 24-month political transition instead of the 18-month transition scheduled to end in October 2022. (“Chad's Deby taps ex-opposition figure Saleh Kebzabo to head interim cabinet,” France24, 12 October 2022)

Dozens killed in protests against extension of transition
On 20 October, at least 50 people protesting against the extension of the transition period and calling for democracy were killed after security forces opened fire on them in Ndjamena and Moundou cities. The opposition claims the figure could be higher at 70 casualties. The protests General Mahamat Deby was sworn in as the president to stay in power until 2024; he was also declared eligible to contest for the elections scheduled for 2024. The appointment of Saleh Kebzabo as his Prime Minister, previously a strong presidential opponent, angered the opposition parties and civil society, thereby leading to protests. ("Dozens of protesters killed in Chad. What happened?," Al Jazeera, 21 October 2022)
Dozens killed in communal violence in Warrap
On 11 October, the Warrap State’s lawmaker said at least 25 people had been killed in clashes between two neighbouring communities over a disputed border in the north. The lawmaker said violence began when youth from the Twic community attacked people from the neighbouring Abyei town; 15 people from the Twic community and 12 people, including women and a child, died from the Abyei side. Both sides accuse each other of encroachment along the border. (Waakhe Simon Wudu, “At least 25 people killed in South Sudan communal land violence,” Reuters, 12 October 2022)
Nine prisoners of war handed over by rebel group
On 13 October, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) handed over nine prisoners of war to Sudan’s ambassador in South Sudan. The ambassador said South Sudan had welcomed the development.  The SLPM-N General Secretary said the nine prisoners, captured in September after clashes in South Sudan’s Kordofan province, were being released on humanitarian grounds. The SPLM-N leader said: “As individuals we don't have problems with them but we have problems with the government.” (Waakhe Simon Wudu, “Sudan rebels hand over prisoners of war, boosting ongoing talks,” Reuters, 13 October 2022)
Protests erupt after ethnic clash claims 200 lives
On 23 October, thousands protested in front of the army headquarters against the ethnic clashes that claimed 200 lives in Blue Nile state in the previous week. The violence allegedly erupted over land disputes between Hausa people and rival communities. On 21 October, the state governor declared a state of emergency to suppress the violence and subsequent protests wherein the protesters demanded the governor to step down. According to the UN, around 600 people have been killed in intercommunal violence since January 2022. (“Thousands take to the streets in Sudan following deadly tribal clashes,” France24, 23 October 2022)
At least 11 killed in bus blast
On 14 October, BBC reported at least 11 people were killed in central Mali in a bus blast. Jihadist insurgency in the country has left thousands dead and forced thousands to leave their homes. The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said that mines and explosive devices had killed more than twenty by the end of August 2022. (“At least 11 killed in Mali bus blast,” BBC, 14 October 2022)

Four UN peacekeepers die in attack in the north
On 18 October, the UN mission in Mali said the death toll of peacekeepers from an attack in Kidai region had risen to four on 17 October. Prior to the fourth peacekeeper’s death, three died on the day of the attack and three were injured after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. ("Death toll rises to four U.N. peacekeepers killed in Mali attack," Reuters, 18 October 2022)
Coup leader to become interim president
On 14 October, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who led the latest coup in Burkina Faso was named as the country's interim president until elections in July 2024. However, a national forum said that the leader would not be allowed to contest in the polls. Traoré seized power two weeks ago from Lt General Paul Henri Damiba, who led a coup in January accusing the authorities of failing to deal with Islamist insurgency. (“Burkina Faso coup leader to become interim president,” BBC, 14 October 2022)
Military agrees to two-year transition to civilian rule
On 21 October, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said Guinea’s military government had agreed to return to civilian rule in 24 months. The ECOWAS statement said a 24-month timetable had been framed in cooperation with Guinea; military leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya said the timetable would come to effect from 1 January 2023, after the ECOWAS approves a final draft later in 2022. Prior to the ECOWAS announcement, four people were killed in clashes between young protesters, calling for a quick transition, and security forces in capital city Conakry on 20 October. (“Guinea junta agrees return to civilian rule in two years,” France24, 23 October 2022)
Hundreds could die of hunger, says Oxfam
On 14 October, Oxfam said that one person is likely to die every 36 seconds till the end of 2022 in the Horn of Africa in ravaging drought. Major East African countries including Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are going through a fifth failed rainy season. Millions of people are leaving the rural areas for makeshift camps near towns. The agency said that the number of people facing acute hunger in Somalia is more than the number of people affected by famine in 2011. (“Hundreds could die every day in Somalia from hunger - OxfamBBC, 14 October 2022)
26 African countries support UN resolution against Russia
On 13 October, BBC reported 26 African countries voted in favour of a UN resolution rejecting Russia’s referendum on four Ukrainian territories that Moscow declared a part of Russia and 19 countries abstained. Among those who abstained was Eritrea which had previously rejected a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In July 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had visited three countries which abstained - Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia. (“African countries divided over UN vote against Russia,” Africanews, 13 October 2022)
UNSC and AUPSC hold 16th annual consultative meeting
On 16 October, ReliefWeb published the joint communique of the Sixteenth (16th) Annual Joint Consultative Meeting of the Members of the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council held on 14 October. The members reiterated the UNSC's responsibility to ensure peace and security in Africa, in line with the UN Charter and the AUPSC's duty to promote peace, security and stability in the continent. The two sides assessed the situation in West Africa and the Sahel and the Great Lakes Region. They expressed concern over the following: terrorism and violent extremism in West Africa and the Sahel; the prevalent sexual violence in conflict and attacks against the UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic; and "protracted insecurity and humanitarian crisis" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's east. They also observed that despite Africa's minimal contribution to climate change, it is extremely vulnerable to the latter's impacts and extreme weather patterns. (“Sixteenth (16th) Annual Joint Consultative Meeting between Members of the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council, New York, 14th October 2022,” African Union, 16 October 2022)
US blacklists alleged Somali funders of militants
On 18 October, the US blacklisted multiple individuals in Somalia accusing them of providing financial and material assistance to al Shabab. Meanwhile, earlier Somali authorities had warned businesses in the capital, Mogadishu against paying taxes to al Qaeda affiliates. The previous week, the information ministry had suspended dozens of social media accounts and pages for publishing al-Shabaab propaganda. (“US blacklists alleged funders of Somali militants,” BBC, 18 October 2022)

About the authors
Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

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