Climate change, urbanization increases flooding in Africa

People are creating flood-prone environments, according to experts.

Climate change, urbanization increases flooding in Africa

Several African countries have been suffering every year and especially since June this year from heavy rains followed by deadly and devastating floods that are caused by climate change and other urban realities, experts told Anadolu Agency.

Senegalese authorities reported the death of at least one person from floods on Friday. In Ivory Coast, at least 19 people died and several were injured in July due to the same phenomenon, which also killed around 20 people recently in Uganda.

"In 2020 in Niger, we had 88 deaths due to floods, while 77 people died in 2021, and this year, we already have 24 deaths for the same reasons," Katiellou Gaptia Lawan, the director of Niger's national meteorology office, told Anadolu Agency.

This situation causes losses of several million dollars annually in Niger, he noted, citing infrastructural damage and the destruction of farms and habitats.

Other African countries are experiencing similar challenges, which experts say are linked to climate change which increases rainfall intensity.

"Extreme rainfall is increasing, now affecting cities that were not previously affected by flooding," said Katiellou, illustrating the case of River Niger, where in 2019 and 2020 records of river flow were seen.

He said it is a reflection of global warming.

"It is undeniable that these heavy rains followed by floods are linked to climate change," said Armel Yobo, a Cameroonian environmentalist.

In Cameroon, floods also destroy transport infrastructure and habitats every year.

Overpopulation is a factor

Yobo believes that beyond climatic hazards, overpopulation, lack of urban development, absence of adequate infrastructure, and poor waste management are also factors causing flooding.

He said several African cities limit themselves to creating an agglomeration of effects without real planning.

"Flooding in Africa is due to climatic variations inherent in the disturbance of atmospheric conditions. But it is mainly the result of a rural exodus that leads to the development of cities with housing systems that are not adapted to natural drainage systems," said Abdoulaye Faty, a hydrologist who teaches at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal.

There is also a combination of negative factors that stem from natural soil conditions, infrastructural deficits, rampant urbanization, and insufficient urban planning, observed Beaugrain Doumongue, a Togolese construction engineer and head of the Building for Tomorrow, an organization that campaigns for sustainable cities in Africa.

"For example, drainage systems are undersized and poorly used by people, who block them by throwing waste," he noted.

This urbanization is motivated by the poverty of people who, in search of a means of survival, exploit the forests abusively by cutting down trees to sell wood, according to Katiellou.

"They destroy ecosystems by denuding watersheds, while the destroyed vegetation causes scouring that carries water and sand that will raise the level of rivers. By doing this, people are also increasingly creating a flood-prone environment," he said.

For Beaugrain Doumongue, people are not aware of the usefulness of green spaces

"The ability of these green spaces to retain water is not sufficiently taken into account, whereas they could allow for better infiltration of water and limit the runoff that occurs when soils are artificialized and flooding abounds," he said.

Way out

Facing these various hazards, experts called for urgently creating sustainable cities.

This requires real political will, a general risk awareness in the era of climate change, and redevelopment of cities through the implementation of warning systems on meteorological risks under sustainable urban planning, according to Doumongue.

"This promotes better mapping of sensitive areas, active information, and remediation processes, and thus helps to build resilience. At the very least, we should opt for multifunctional approaches to stormwater management, combining all forms of vegetated development which are generally more economical," he said.

Calling for awareness-raising among the population, Katiellou also recommended rethinking urban planning.

"Infrastructure must be contextualized to take into account climate change and the pressures of extreme events. Laws must be passed to prohibit housing in flood-prone areas. Vigilance and warning systems must be put in place to warn people and prevent hazards from becoming disasters," he said.

For Armel Yobo, too, there is a need to adopt sustainable cities and what they entail in controlling population growth.

The experts warned of the risk of greater climate damage if these various measures are not put in place.

"African populations must therefore be aware that recent disasters in Abidjan, Dakar, Niamey, and elsewhere are likely to become more frequent and common to most sub-Saharan countries," said Doumongue.