Torrential rains and flooding have affected 600,000 people in 16 West African nations, the United Nations reported Tuesday.
The worst hit have been Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana and Niger, said Yvon Edoumou, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. So far, 159 people have died, he said. Edoumou said removing water from flooded areas is a top priority, but powerful pumps are in short supply. “Some people refused to leave their homes so they are living in floodwaters,” he said. The United Nations has not yet received reports of waterborne diseases, but Edoumou said a real threat exists of diarrhea or, worse, cholera. Private aid agencies are working with the United Nations to distribute food and other emergency items. Oxfam International is assessing the crisis in Burkina Faso, where 150,000 people have been affected in the capital, Ouagadougou, and key infrastructure has been damaged, including a central hospital, schools, bridges and roads. The flooding in Burkina Faso is the worst in 90 years. “These people were already living in difficult conditions, housed in slums, and now they are homeless and forced to sleep on school floors and use plastic bags for a mattress,” Oxfam spokeswoman Marta Valdes said. Herve Ludovic de Lys, head of the U.N.’s OCHA in West Africa, said natural disasters have a lasting effect that unravels years of progress against poverty. “The situation is very worrying,” he said in an OCHA statement issued Tuesday. The rainy season in West Africa begins in June and continues through late September. In 2007, 300 people died and 800,000 were affected by storms. This year, fears abound that more heavy rain will fall in already waterlogged areas. Despite the misery, Edoumou said the rains are a mixed blessing for countries dependent on agriculture. The harvest this year will be more bountiful, he said.