Between drought and flood

Over the last 30 years increasing numbers of people have been affected by severe flooding, drought and variable climate in the Sahel. Millions of Africans have sought refuge from these disasters. These peoples have often had to settle on marginal areas; where some have faced social tensions with new neighbouring communities (1). Poor people all over Africa are vulnerable to droughts and floods since many depend on rainfed agriculture as their main means of subsistence and often live in degraded areas susceptible to rainfall variation (cleared of trees and vegetation). BY An. Ba

Poor harvests due to rainfall variability have led to famine and have badly disrupted African economies (that rely on agricultural exports as a major source of foreign earning). There have also been outbreaks of disease - due to poor sanitation - after floods, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Many African countries cannot afford to import food and medical supplies or repair infrastructure when there are natural disasters.

Drought: The most prolonged and widespread droughts occurred in 1973 and 1984, when almost all African countries were affected, and in 1992, when all southern African countries experienced extreme food shortages. In 1973 alone, drought killed 100,000 people in the Sahel (2).

Flooding: In 1998 many parts of East Africa experienced record rainfall (up to ten times the usual amount) and disastrous flooding. In Uganda alone more than 10,000 people were affected, directly or as a result of ensuing cholera epidemics; 40 percent of the main roads were destroyed and the country became heavily dependent on food imports and aid (3).

Cyclones and Storms: In May 2002 Cyclone Kesiny hit Madagascar affecting more than half a million people, making them homeless or in need of emergency food, shelter and drinking water. Up to 75 percent of the crops were destroyed, 20 people died and 1,200 were injured (4).

Volcanic Activity: In January 2002 Nyiragongo erupted affecting most inhabitants of Goma (350,000), and killing 147 and displacing 30,000 (5).

Earthquakes: In December 1999 an earthquake hit northwest Algeria, measuring 5.2 to 5.5 on the Richter scale, killing 22 people and hospitalizing 49. Three thousand houses were destroyed and 5,000 families (25,000 people) were affected (6).

An. Ba

1. Statistics Database, OFDA (United States Office for Disaster Assistance), 2000.

2. Gommes, R. and Petrassi, F., Rainfall Variability and Drought in Sub-Saharan Africa Since 1960, in FAO Agrometeorology Series Working Paper, No 9, FAO, Rome, 1996.

3. State of the Environment Report for Uganda 1998, NEMA , Kampala, 1999.

4. International Disaster Situation Reports, Centre for International Disaster Information, 2002, available at

5.Global Environment Outlook 3, UNEP, Nairobi, 2002

6. Algeria Earthquake, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Situation Report, No. 1, December 23, 1999.

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