'Nearly 275,000’ affected by floods in little-known disaster

Government figures indicate that in northern Ghana flooding has affected more people than in all other West African countries combined, yet the disaster has received little international attention compared to floods elsewhere in the region.

The government’s National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) says floods have affected close to 275,000 people in the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions of the country. Parts of the Western Region have also seen flooding. Most of the affected people are displaced, although some are still living in what is left of their homes.

“The magnitude is unbelievable but yet … nobody is talking about it on the international scene. It’s amazing,” Benonita Bismarck, head of operations for the Ghana Red Cross, told IRIN.

President John Kufuor has declared all three northern regions disaster zones. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the floods have killed at least 20 people, destroyed bridges linking Ghana to its neighbouring countries, and knocked over or partially destroyed around 20,000 homes.

In the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions – which make up about 40 percent of Ghana’s landmass – damage is widespread. Thousands of hectares of farmlands have been destroyed. Some villages are accessible only by a 10-km canoe ride, one aid worker said.

In the Upper East Region all eight districts have been hit, said George Isaac Amoo, NADMO national coordinator, who called the area “the most poverty endemic region in the country”.

The numbers of people affected are constantly changing, but provisional numbers as of 13 September from NADMO and the Ministry of Interior indicate 227,812 in the Northern Region, 37,429 in the Upper East Region, 7,811 in the Western Region and 473 in the Upper West Region.

But as Amoo pointed out: “The number of victims is rising each passing day.”


Photo: Burkina Faso Red Cross
Floods across West Africa have destroyed homes, crops and livestock

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that aside from Ghana, 204,000 people have been affected by floods in 11 countries across West Africa.

The Ghana Red Cross in the Upper East Region says 22 people have died there and estimates that 90,000 people have been cut off in the Builsa district due to destroyed roads and bridges. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Ghana found that 11,239 homes were damaged in the Upper East Region, most of them completely destroyed. A UNICEF team estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 people were displaced in six of the region’s eight districts.

Causes

Daniel Ayugane has lived in Ghana’s Upper East Region since he was born. “I’m 43 years old. I’ve never seen such a situation,” said Ayugane, who heads CRS Ghana.

The heaviest rains fell from 24-29 August, but rains have continued since, government and aid workers said. In Builsa district 113.8 mm of rain fell on 24 August, followed by 120.1mm the next day – “apparently the heaviest rainfall in ten years,” Yasmin Ali Haque, representative for the UN Children’s Fund in Ghana, told IRIN.

The situation was aggravated by the opening of a dam in neighbouring Burkina Faso, where floods were causing dangerously high water levels, according to the Burkinabé government. On 27 August, the government opened a flood gate of the Bagre dam in the east of the country, releasing water at a force of 900 m3 per second into the White Volta River, which flows into Ghana. Ghanaians living along the Black and White Volta Rivers were hard hit, government officials and aid workers said.

“For security reasons, when the water level started exceeding the accepted level, we had to do that to avoid erosion of the dam and its destruction,” said Ouirago Bouda, director of production and transportation of electricity at the national power company that manages the dam, Société Nationale d’Électricité du Burkina (SONABEL). “It could have been worse if the dam did not exist.”

Water from the Bagre dam allows people living nearby to irrigate their land during the dry season. It also replenishes levels in Ghana’s Akosombo dam, which this year dropped to below minimum levels, causing power outages across the country.

“This is the flipside of the coin: while the populations develop abundant irrigated land because of the water from the Bagre dam, they are also hit by floods when there is lot of rain,” Bouda said.

Since 1995, SONABEL and the Ghanaian Volta River Authority have had an agreement permitting Burkina Faso to open its flood gate with two weeks’ notice. Burkina gave such notice on 14 August, correspondence between the two countries showed.

“Imminent famine”

Residents in the three affected regions in the north are mostly farmers, who produce food for the entire country, including rice, millet and maize. According to the local newspaper Ghanaian Chronicle, the regions generate an estimated 45 percent of total agricultural produce in Ghana.

Farmers were unable to produce enough crops this year, due to months of drought. Now, with the flood damage, government officials and aid workers warn of serious food shortages, due to the destroyed crops and farmlands. In the Upper East Region alone, 12,220 hectares of farmland had been washed away, according to government figures.

“People’s livelihoods have been totally devastated,” NADMO’s Amoo told IRIN.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says the shortfall in crop production – from the combination of drought and floods – is estimated at 160,000 metric tonnes.

“There is an imminent famine in the area,” added Nana Akrasi-Sarpong, public relations manager at the Ministry of the Interior, appealing to the international community for help.

The government says it has set up an emergency task force to plan for future floods, and has already taken “adequate measures” to deal with the expected famine resulting from the flooding, according to the government website.

''...We are looking at a major, major disaster in the months to come...''

Still, the Red Cross’s Bismarck warned: “We are looking at a major, major disaster in the months to come.”

Aid

The displaced people are living in schools, community centres, churches, government buildings or with relatives and friends.

The government, which has sent several delegations to visit the affected areas, has committed 60 billion old Ghanaian cedis (US$6.4 million) for relief items and reconstruction projects, but says it needs much more for food, medication, blankets, mosquito nets, clothing and tents for the displaced people.

The government has set immediate needs at 500 billion old Ghanaian cedis (US$53 million) to be allocated to Upper East Region (45 percent), Northern Region (40 percent), Upper West (5 percent) and Western Region (10 percent), according to WFP.

“The situation is alarming,” the Interior Ministry’s Akrasi-Sarpong told IRIN. “We need support. Ghana is a developing country. We cannot use our meagre resources to meet the effects of the floods in the three regions.”

Aid distribution by the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has begun in the affected regions, but has been concentrated in the Upper East Region. According to the government website President Kufuor has promised the government will deliver relief supplies to the Upper East Region by next week, including 5,000 bags of cement, 500 bundles of roofing sheets and 2,000 bags of rice.

The Red Cross, which is already helping with registration of the displaced, food distribution and education on the dangers of waterborne diseases, has requested funds from the International Federation of the Red Cross for relief items. A coalition of NGOs called the Inter-NGO Consortium has also been meeting to coordinate aid. Several of its members have already delivered aid or committed to doing so, according to the CRS.

The UN is considering the deployment of a disaster management team.

Floods in the Greater Accra Region in June killed six people, according to NADMO. In May, a rainstorm in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, destroyed schools, hospitals, homes and government buildings. The government had been sending relief items and construction materials to the thousands of people affected. They were in the process of rebuilding their homes when the latest floods hit, NADMO’s Amoo said.

“This has been one very difficult year for the nation,” he added.

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