MALI: Bad planning to blame for flood damage

Monday, October 1, 2007

In principle, the 81mm of rain that drenched the mud walled houses and bone dry fields in this town on 26 July should not have posed a major problem.

“Eighty-one millimetres isn’t really that much,” said local Mali Red Cross volunteer Bacari Keita. “With good drainage it should not cause major flooding.”

Instead a wall of water flooded the town’s rutted muddy streets, carrying away mud houses, domestic animals and belongings.

Around 12,600 people were made homeless.

Some simple plans for preparedness and prevention had been drawn up. If only they had been implemented the tragedy could have been avoided, local officials said.

What happened

The first houses to be washed away in Bla were those recently built in parts of the town that had were previously used to channel rainwater.

But Bla has not had heavy rains and flooding since 1987 and the town’s population has swelled. Many poor people who cannot afford to buy land have built on communal spaces, including on land previously reserved for channelling water.

Bla is at the bottom of a gradually descending valley. Inhabitants have stripped the valley’s sides bare of trees and shrubs so that as rain water rolls down it is able to gather momentum.

On that fateful day in July, a wall of water rushed into the town, crashing through walls and flooding the town’s wells.

When the flood waters finally receded some days later, it was clear that the worst of the flood damage had happened in areas without tarmac roads.

What to do

For Keita, the Mali Red Cross volunteer, the solution is clear. Convince people not to build more houses in places historically prone to flooding.

“The town has already identified new sites where people can move to,” he said. The problem is that people are unwilling to think long term, he added.

“The flood victims are already starting to rebuild on the same sites where they were flooded out,” he said. “It is inevitable that sooner or later flooding will happen there again.”

The town’s mayor Brahima Sanogo told IRIN that he had a more ambitious project to build a trench around the village. “We need to build defences against floods,” he said, “including better drains on the national highway”.

Sanogo blamed the federal government for not implementing the proposal. “It’s all been planned out but the government has not yet agreed to it,” he said.

He also told IRIN of plans to replant shrubs and trees on the slopes of the valley around the town and implementing rules to stop locals from cutting them down.

He could not explain why that plan had not been implement.

For Mamary Sidibe, head of social and economic development for Bla’s local government, “The problems here are caused by poor leadership.”

He said there is simply no emergency planning. “We need to have a plan to evacuate the city but we don’t, even though we know floods come here regularly.”

At the moment the local school is the only place for people to go to, he said. “There has to be other designated places as well.”

Source: IRIN