BURKINA FASO: Lots of rain, little aid

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Despite continued rain and rising numbers of flood victims in Burkina Faso, aid is limited in this Sahelian country, where, according to local press, flooding in the capital Ouagadougou is the worst in 54 years.

So far, more than 35,000 people have been affected across the country, and 80 percent of them are homeless, according to the national council for emergency aid (CONASUR). The death toll has reached 33, with another 73 injured. Of the country’s 13 regions, 11 have been affected. (The government says the numbers are likely much higher because continuing rain has prevented a global assessment.)

Flooding has knocked over homes and schools, destroyed dikes and bridges and blocked access to some villages. According to local newspapers, a two-year-old girl was crushed to death when a wall of her house crumbled on top of her.

Yet more than a month after flooding began, the government says it is not receiving the aid it needs.

“We need food and survival materials: mats, blankets, soap, plastic buckets,” Amadé Bélem, the permanent secretary of the national council for emergency aid and the government’s top crisis management official, told IRIN. “Certainly what is most worrying is that we don’t have tents.”

Most people who have lost their homes are living in schools and the school year is set to begin in three weeks. Bélem said the government needs at least 450 tents to shelter the homeless.

“The response hasn’t been as alive as you’d hope,” added Janet Trucker, West Africa regional director for Save the Children Canada. “Really nothing was going on in the latter part of August,” she said, noting that most government workers take their holidays in August, and few non-governmental organisations and UN agencies have mounted quick responses.

Thus far, the government has spent 330 million CFA francs (US$689,000) on food, medicine and other survival materials, but says it needs far more.

UN slowdown

UN agencies, led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), were to conduct a damage assessment last week in order to identify needs and begin providing assistance. The mission was postponed because of organisational problems, UN sources said.

“If humanitarian actors can’t get organised, of course it has an impact on the beneficiaries,” Felix Alexandre Sanfo, OCHA’s humanitarian affairs officer in Burkina Faso, told IRIN.

“Now, it’s too late [for an assessment]. It’s no longer worth it.” Instead, he said, OCHA could begin coordinating assistance, without evaluation, based on information available from government and NGO sources that have been in the field. “We must act,” Sanfo said.

Aid in the works

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), unwilling to wait any longer for the postponed joint mission, last week conducted its own assessment of agricultural damage in six regions of the country.

It has requested US$300,000 from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund for projects in two of the regions – north and centre-east – where it found flooded pastures, destroyed crops and lost livestock. Beginning in November, FAO will give 1,500 families seeds, fertilizer, livestock and gardening tools. In the three western regions visited – Hauts-Bassins, Cascades and Boucle du Mouhoun – the agricultural damage was even worse, the FAO said. A separate funding request will target the 20,000 homes affected in those regions.

The Burkina Faso Red Cross has provided 10 tonnes of cereals, 10 55kg bundles of clothes, eight tents, 60 blankets and pamphlets on cholera prevention for victims in the northern department of Banh and the south-western department of Bama. More funding is on the way from the International Federation of the Red Cross.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has so far provided mats, blankets, clothes, buckets and soap to the Burkinabé government from its emergency stocks. The regional UNICEF office has approved US$50,000 in additional funding for Burkina Faso flood victims.

The UN has agreed to provide the government with 200 million CFA francs (US$417,000) to purchase tents, Bélem said, “but we haven’t received anything for the moment.”

According to interim UN resident coordinator Geneviève Ah-Sue, the government has not requested anything else from the UN. She said the emergency aid council has received assistance from other government ministries, the Red Cross, NGOs and private individuals.

“That’s one of Burkina Faso’s characteristics. People are in solidarity. They are assisting each other, which is a good thing,” Ah-Sue told IRIN.

She added the government is doing a good job handling the crisis itself, with food and medical assistance provided by the ministries of agriculture and health.

“It seems that everything is under control,” Ah-Sue said – a claim the aid council’s Bélem disputes.

“The rains started in June. They won’t stop until October. We will have to take care of these people for six months. I don’t know how anyone can see this as ‘under control’.”

He said the government has so far received 24 tents from the army and the Red Cross and 1,500 mats, blankets and other supplies from UNICEF. “We have 35,000 affected people. Do you think that’s enough?”

“Torrential rains”

Save the Children Canada – which provided assistance to a village in Fo department in the badly hit region of Hauts-Bassins – described the rains as “torrential,” adding some regions of the country received 116mm of rain in less than three hours.

“It’s to the point you can’t hear yourself talk,” regional director Trucker said. “Trees are toppling over... You don’t want to be out on foot anymore.”

She said many communities previously hit by floods have lost hope they will ever receive aid. “They’ve done this before. They’ve given their names, circumstances, and private information to the [government] and then nothing’s done with it.”

Save the Children Canada delivered two tents and a truckload of first necessities to the village of Dorona. “For this community, it’s been a while since they’ve seen some assistance like that,” Trucker said.

The government’s Bélem acknowledged the help of NGOs, but said the bits of aid given here and there simply are not enough.

“These aren’t big donations. They give what they can, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

Source: IRIN
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