On September 1st, 2009, Burkina Faso was hit by a devastating flood, which submerged multiple cities and left thousands of people on the streets as they watched their homes, businesses and assets taken away by the ruthless waves. This date brings back painful memories and has remained one of the most significant footprints of the last 15 years in addition to the 2014 popular uprising and the recent terrorist attacks. Many lives were lost following each of these events. Today, a record amount of water poured over almost the whole country (11 regions submerged by water of the 13 that make up the whole nation). In Ouagadougou, the capital city, 263mm of rain was recorded, which is an unusual fact for a sahelian country. However, many reasons can explain this disastrous situation.
Ever since, flooding has become almost permanent in Burkina Faso, mainly striking large centers such as Bobo Dioulasso and Ouagadougou (conclusion of the AMMA-2050 project). It is hence paramount that a thorough analysis of the root causes of this heartbreaking disaster be conducted for the purpose of providing sustainable solutions and effective strategies to come about the issue.
Ouagadougou is a fast growing city with an ever-increasing number of residents who are in search of a place to accommodate. This results in the occupation of the various spaces around the city with a precarious hygiene and sanitation system, therefore presenting a risk of flood and all kinds of diseases. The risk is due to the swampy state of the premises and the lack of water draining systems. According to geotechnical studies, the risky neighbourhoods in Ouagadougou are Dapoya, Karpala, Rimkiéta, Nioko, the non-subdivided districts. In Bobo Dioulasso, areas such as the 9th and 21st districts are constantly endangered. Few areas possess gutters and canals, but they serve as dumpsters for trash and household waste such as tires and bags. The trash piles up to the point where the gutters become clogged and therefore, cannot flow away. The responsibility is shared with the local authorities who, on one hand, fail to enforce rules and regulations and work on the creation of waste management systems on the other hand. Experts argue that global warming has an impact on the increase in rainfalls. As a result, heavy rains hit an important number of cities, causing unprecedented disasters.
While it is important to discuss the causes of floods, it is also salient to analyse the consequences of it. As such, could be mentioned, heavy losses in human life, displaced people, internal migrations, precarious housing (often re-housed in classrooms until the start of the school year), financial losses for households that are already in a situation of extreme vulnerability, health crises (appearance of infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera, diarrhea, etc.) as well as food insecurity (destruction of crops, crops and granaries). As a reminder, the financial losses for the September 1st 2009’s flood have been valued for over 70 billion CFA francs. This is a big cost incurred for a low income country such as Burkina Faso. On June 6, 2020, the government addressed and invited the communities to take ownership. Indeed, a CILSS report on environmental issues predicted heavy rains accounting for this year’s 2020s period. This appeal was heard by multiple town halls and youth associations who committed to cleaning the gutters to allow a seamless flow of the water. While these are effective actions, their sustainability character can be doubted.
As far as the popular saying is concerned, “he who wants to go far takes care of his horse”, this thought clearly illustrates how a community must organize itself to counter such disaster, especially in a country where there are multiple priorities. As such, town halls must enforce the law and maintain a rigorous management of public and private spaces, proscribe precarious urbanization in flood zones, improve the subdivisions of non-subdivided area, implement innovative solutions with the intent to capturing and making a good usage of rainwater through effective sanitation structure, subsequent budgeting. To this could be added, working on prediction technologies and emergency response resources. Of course, these actions should be strongly supported and worked out with all the stakeholders. Besides, the media should play a role in communicating measures in an accurate and effective manner.
Our authorities would also benefit from leveraging the recommendations made in the various technical reports such as the AMMA-2050 and the PRESA (Promoting the Resilience of Economies in Semi-Arid Zones). These reports contain substantial knowledge and techniques that are crucial for the establishment of good reforms in space planning and waste and sanitation management. These structured solutions will undoubtedly reduce the risk of flooding in our country for the utmost sake of the vulnerable populations that constantly live with the fear of a flood whenever the sky darkens.