Development, Getting it off my chest

On flooding in Benin, and how to help

This year has been a rough one for Benin, and it’s not about to get any easier. ICC, the LEPI, and now catastrophic flooding are combining to make this fall one of the hardest since I’ve been here. The whole country has been affected, and to say that one region has it worse than another is to fundamentally misunderstand how Benin’s economy and social fabric work. Two thirds of the communes in Benin have flooded zones.

The rains stopped in the North several weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean that the flooding from the Niger river and other northern waterways has stopped. Karimama, Malanville, and any towns around major bodies of water have been affected.

The Ouemé-Plateau is now really just the Ouemé river. The river, Lac Nokoué, and other bodies of water have flooded the plain.

The Zou has also been heavily flooded.

The Mono-Kouffo, with the Mono river and its thousands of lakes and rivers is equally flooded.

And then there’s Cotonou. My neighborhood is OK. We’re on a hill that gently slopes down towards a swamp. Those who live on the border of or in the swamp have been affected, but to be honest, they’re affected every year. Other parts of the city have not been so lucky. Lac Nokoué and the lagune have risen by several inches, flooding whole neighborhoods.

There are parts of Cotonou that can only be reached by pirogue (canoe), including major roads. You know the back route between the Stadium and the old Peace Corps office? Where they used to make foosball tables, on the left there, over the small bridge? That’s been flooded out for weeks, as has the surrounding neighborhood. There’s a guard-vélo to keep an eye on your bike or moto while you take a pirogue to wherever you need to go and come back. Akpakpa is equally flooded.

There are hundreds of dead, thousands missing, and hundreds of thousands displaced. People don’t have lodging, jobs, food, clean water, or mosquito nets. All of Benin’s most fertile plains have been flooded. Nigeria, a crucial food supplier, is also flooded. Pineapples? Beans? Rice? Wheat? Corn? Tomatoes? Prices are already climbing, and this season’s harvest is going to be a disaster.

How can we help?

So people are homeless, kids aren’t going to school, and disease is rampant. What can we do from our armchairs? I checked with the USAID director and several other international donors to find out what they’re doing. The relief effort is being lead by Caritas, who works in partnership with the Beninese government to get supplies and support to areas affected by the flooding. The American mission is funneling funds through Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who in turn work with Caritas. Caritas has already begun distributing mosquito nets, food, and much needed medication. They have also helped to build temporary housing for thousands of people who have lost their homes.

Because we’re all smart development workers and activists, we know that sending in-kind goods is a terrible way to help populations in need. Donors on the ground have far better supply chains and know where they can source supplies locally. Donating to CRS will guarantee that the funds reach Caritas Benin.

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