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DISASTERS: ECOWAS stepping up response

ABUJA, 13 July 2011 (IRIN) - Following years of discussion, representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are now testing joint disaster responses in light of increased flooding and more severe droughts in West Africa over the past decade, according to the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD).

"Major efforts" are under way for "south-south cooperation between member states", according to Andrea Diop, disaster focal point at ECOWAS, including setting up an Emergency Flood Fund for disaster response which individual countries can tap into; a natural disaster reduction task force; and an Emergency Response team.

Disaster focal points from ECOWAS member states convened in Abuja in late June to simulate a regional emergency and forge a joint response.

Floods affected 2.2 million people in West Africa in 2010, and killed 500. Nigeria recorded the highest death rate from floods (118), followed by Ghana (52), and Benin (43). The Nigeria Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is currently trying to respond to floods in the commercial capital, Lagos, which have displaced thousands and killed at least 10. Government officials describe them as the worst in decades.

Conflicts over land are also on the increase in parts of Sahelian West Africa as the rainy season in some areas has dwindled to just two months, causing pastoralists to stay longer on farmers' land, according to Youcef Ait Chellouche, adviser at the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

ECOWAS member states are also trying to improve joint weather forecasting to predict major disasters, according to Diop. At a recent meeting in Dakar sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, representatives from 11 West African countries agreed to provide more support for meteorological and hydrological services so they could more accurately forecast extreme weather events.

But for collaboration to be more effective, member states' finance ministries need to put more money aside for disaster risk reduction, Chellouche told IRIN. A distinct budget line for ECOWAS disaster response is not yet in place.

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Theme (s): Early Warning, Economy, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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