11 June 2020
19 Minutes

Chinedu Okoye


In the past three decades, the West African sub-region has recorded the worst form of flooding across the continent with over 500,000 people affected between the early 1980s and late 1990s.

The 2009 floods – classed a natural disaster – were triggered by heavy rain falls which led to the Volta, Pendjari, Niger and Senegal Rivers breaking their banks and causing large-scale destruction of property, farmlands and infrastructure. Over 600,000 people were affected as a result of this flooding with major cases reported in Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea. A year later, over 1.7 million people across the region were affected, including up to 52,000 cases of the deadly Cholera disease as a fall out. Flooding in the year 2012 was also classed a natural disaster owing to its magnitude and reach, with serious cases recorded in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, and the Lake Chad basin countries of Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. The latter three were directly hit after the Niger River burst its banks having exceeded levels not witnessed in decades. Consequently, hundreds died across Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, with over a million persons displaced and rendered homeless across the region by October, 2012. These floods impacted the sub-region negatively, leaving in their wake physical human/animal injuries; widespread disease infections/breakouts; death, social and humanitarian disorders; food insecurity; economic losses in the form of destructions to farmlands, telecommunication and power infrastructure; and disruptions to crude oil/gas explorations and mineral mining.

The Present Threat

Up until the last cycle of rainfalls in 2019, perennial flooding across the West African sub-region has continued to exacerbate, especially in the face of little to no concrete flood risk management measures on the part of respective nation-state governments. This portends a gloomy prognosis with an increase in the adverse impact of the floods on social life and the economy. The risk of chronic disease outbreaks with very dire health implications for the general population is also very high; typical examples being – water and vector borne diseases such as diarrhea, malaria, cholera, hepatitis, leptospirosis and typhoid fever.

Poor rural-urban planning and design, lack of proper land use policy framework, lack of flood data, poorly designed/blocked drainage channels, defective dams, poor river defenses, deforestation and land reclamation along coastal areas, are the common causes of flooding across the sub-region. Furthermore, the threat posed by climate change, rapid population growth and increasing urbanization cannot be overemphasized and also need to be factored into proactive flood mitigation plans.

The rainy season cycle for the year 2020 has commenced, but with not much change in the relative ad-hoc flood management measures implemented across the region; everything seems to be as it was in the previous years with regional countries seemingly having resigned themselves to fate while relying on post-flood/disaster remedies in the form of humanitarian aids and other temporary palliatives.

The Covid-19 pandemic has inadvertently diverted focus away from perennial flooding in the region and the threat it poses for the year 2020; this has meant a number of flooding cases have recently occurred without receiving the usual prime media coverage and response measures it triggers. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, report that parts of Burkina Faso experienced flooding due to heavy rainfall on the 19th of April, 2020. Mostly affected were IDP settlements in the Kongoussi Community of the Centre-Nord region, which hosts nearly 21,000 internally displaced persons. Between the 17th and 18th of May, 2020, while the world issued #staysafe #stayhome warnings on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ivorian Civil Protection Agency issued a different type of warning, i.e. flood safety warnings after heavy rains caused floods in the western Duekoue Department, resulting in significant damage to around 125 houses mostly on the path of the overflowing Guemon river. Flooding in the Prikro Department in Iffou region, also led to destruction of school buildings.

Today, Covid-19 has made it more imperative that recurrent issues like perennial flooding are put back on the front burner and addressed by regional governments. Social distancing rules, delicate healthcare and safety rules, personal and community hygiene practices cannot be observed or adhered to in the midst of a flood and the disruption it brings. Unmitigated flooding will only worsen the effect of the pandemic and quicken its spread and rate of contact in the community. This should be factored in by policy makers going forward.

Flood Risk Management: A Pragmatic Approach

Sub-regional flooding and its devastating impacts can be mitigated by devising proactive adaptation strategies that would ensure viable forecasting/detection, preventive and response measures deployed as a combined approach in a timely and prompt manner. Forecast and preventive measures are critical and should be prioritized ahead of post-disaster measures; this is what differentiates a pragmatic approach from the currently practiced one-off ad-hoc response measures. Greater emphasis should be placed on pre-flooding preparations as well as investing in technologically up-to-date and precise early flood warning systems. With flood risk increasing due to climate change and unrestricted population/infrastructural growth along flood plains, it is imperative that real-time flood forecasting and warning systems are incorporated as an important component of the flood risk management strategy; this will ensure impact mitigation by issuing real-time forecasts and precise warnings ahead of impending flooding, (see Recommendation no. 1,2 and 3).  Early and routine sensitisation of flood-prone communities should be made a priority. Such a process will help simplify forecast readings and warning signals for easier interpretation and understanding by communities; this will ensure adequate pre-flood arrangements and precautionary measures are taken to limit flood impact. Sensitisation will also acquaint communities with the dos and don’ts of selecting locations to build homes, farms and other structures, (see Recommendation 4).

According to local observers, affected settlements in the Kongoussi flooding were located on known flood zones. The flooding and damage to the IDP camps would not have occurred if flood risk due diligence was done and preventive measures taken to originally site, or relocate the camp away from the flood prone zone (see Recommendation no. 5, 6 and 11).

The Climate Institute, in an article ‘New Flood Prevention Strategies’, submit that 40 percent of the 2018 flooding in Houston Texas, United States, was attributed to drainage and city planning issues. The City’s tentative Flood Mitigation Strategy – post 2018 – projected to cost an estimated $60.8 billion, was to be invested in preventive measures like drainage construction and improvements, widening water channels, construction of new reservoirs/dams, vulnerable home buyouts, and excavation of storm water detention basins. Also part of preventive measures are City Planning enforcements that will ensure compliance to stipulated building designs, drainage specifications and other flood prevention infrastructures. The West African region can take a cue from this in addressing its peculiar flood challenge (see Recommendation no. 7 and 9).

Moreover, the absence of an efficient waste management system across the region has meant a prevalence in cases of indiscriminate dumping of solid waste in rural communities and cities, causing blockage of drainage channels which worsen the impact of flooding when it occurs. It also has serious health implications i.e. dangerous infections and disease outbreaks. WasteAid UK in an article, ‘Waste Management and Flood Prevention’, submit that the July 2015 Accra, Ghana, flooding which killed up to 175 persons was worsened by blocked drainage channels which could not cope during and after the heavy downpour, causing floods to submerge the city at high impact. In its aftermath, a significant cholera outbreak was experienced in Accra. In Lagos, Nigeria, the challenge of poor waste management is  compounded by an exponential increase in human population due to disproportionate state-to-state migration into Lagos.

Lagos State Government figures released in 2018, reveal 14,000 metric tonnes of waste and upward is generated daily in Lagos by residents, a good percentage of which is dumped into drainage channels or by the roadside. This indiscriminate disposal of waste has contributed in no small measure to flooding in the mega city. An efficient waste management and disposal system plays a significant role in mitigating the impact of flooding and its associated health hazards in the region (see Recommendation no. 8).

Deforestation also increases flooding risk both directly and indirectly. Directly, the removal of trees or forest depletion leads to poor rainfall interception, soil erosion, and reduction in groundwater uptake, all of which increase the rate of surface water run-off and risk of flooding. Indirectly, removal of trees means reduction of their role in taking Carbon dioxide off the atmosphere, which means increased global warming, increased temperatures, rising sea levels, overflowing river banks and flooding. Regional governments should come up with policy designed to discourage deforestation while encouraging reforestation (see Recommendation no. 10).

Risk Management Options for Flood Mitigation in West Africa – Part II


For an improved approach at mitigating the effects of perennial flooding across the West African region, the following steps are recommended for consideration by regional policy and decision makers:


  1. Invest in the provision of real time flood forecasting and warning systems.
  2. Prepare, maintain and deploy flood risk/hazard maps. This will enable the availability and use of precipitation and flow data to help forecast flow rates and water levels as well as ensuring timeliness in issuing flood warnings to the general public. Reliable flood warnings are fed by a credible flood forecasting process.
  3. Ensure human capital development by training and equipping personnel with the technical competency and capacity to operate forecast/warning systems; i.e. read, interpret, correctly forecast, review and improve on system operation.
  4. Engagement of stakeholders through efficient dissemination of information to citizens encouraging them to abide by regulations pertaining to flood forecasts/warnings, flooding patterns, and domesticating flood risk management measures in their immediate environment.



  1. Increased annual budgetary allocations and government spending on flood risk management and all forms of post-disaster humanitarian aids. Lack of adequate resources (financial and material), ultimately undermines the effectiveness of flood risk management efforts.
  2. Regional states to see to the repositioning of their current land use policy framework and ensure strict enforcements to  prevent indiscriminate erection of residential buildings, offices, schools, hospitals and other infrastructures in areas prone to flooding.
  3. Strategic construction and location of rural and urban drainage channels, diversion canals/floodways to aid in diverting flood water away to fallow lands or flood water retention facilities.
  4. Ensure efficient rural and urban waste management measures to prevent waste build up which worsens the impact of flooding, while also presenting dire health hazards.
  5. Strategic siting and construction of water holding dams/reservoirs, water retention ponds, river defenses, and wetlands to soak up flood water and in the process reduce run-off speed and impact.
  6. Immediate halt of all deforestation activities as these disruptions not only damage the ecosystem but play a critical role in worsening the impact of climate change on flooding. Emphasis should be paid into forestation, especially along areas prone to flooding.
  7. Evacuation of flood prone areas, as a risk avoidance strategy, through a government led relocation drive that would move those living or doing business in these high risk areas to less risky areas.



  1. Sponsor further research efforts into flood risk management as this will promote the design and implementation of sustainable development measures which help unearth hidden causal factors, and create more up-to-date mitigation measures.
  2. Promote, implement and enforce compulsory flood insurance policy as a non-structural response approach, covering infrastructure and properties such as buildings, vehicles, etc. This will help mitigate the impact of the losses suffered post-disaster.
  3. Design and implement a structured framework that would ensure a fair and transparent payment of compensation packages, and the provision of commensurate humanitarian aid and palliatives to the displaced, to help ameliorate or lessen the impact of losses experienced.
  4. Implement measures aimed at reducing the risk of both water and vector borne diseases associated with flooding i.e. general chlorination and treatment of water to protect against diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and leptospirosis, as well as mass immunization against hepatitis A, enforcement of high personal/community hygiene and sanitation standards, implementation of disaster-preparedness programs as well as early infectious disease detection, warning and control systems.


As earlier emphasized, current efforts at tackling the annual challenge of perennial flooding in West Africa is insufficient and falls below global standards. The largely uncontrolled destructive impact of flooding in the sub-region will continue if the current ad-hoc and reactionary approach is not substituted with a more holistic, real-time flood risk management approach that incorporates pragmatic forecasting, preventive and response strategies.

The proposed flood risk management as well as the 15 recommendations, represent a deliberately designed framework for effective mitigation of flooding and its impact across the West African sub-region.


Benefits accruable as a direct result of implementing these, will include, but are not limited to :

  1. Reduction in the magnitude of flood impact, devastation and destruction to lives, property and infrastructure across the sub-region.
  2. Protection and preservation of farmlands, crops and other agricultural produce across the sub-region.
  3. Reduction in chronic disease outbreaks amid reduced risk of infection to the general population.
  4. Enhanced protection and preservation of the ecosystem.
  5. Reduced disruptions to social order and sub-regional economy.
  6. Reduced cases of humanitarian crises, displaced persons and the associated casualty figures.
  7. Rechanneling of government funds/spending(s), erstwhile budgeted for humanitarian aid and other palliative measures, to other social and economically beneficial projects.
  8. Improved societal hygiene and sanitation standards.
  9. High-level societal awareness, alertness and knowledge around flooding and flood risk management.
  10. Improved/credible flood forecast and warning systems, which ultimately drive high levels of pre and post-flooding preparedness.