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Ivoirian floods highlight disaster preparedness shortcomings

Floods have wrecked havoc in Côte d’Ivoire's capital Abidjan where at least 23 people were killed in June 2014 Alexis Adele/IRIN
Recent heavy downpours and flooding in Côte d’Ivoire have killed dozens of people, washed away houses and once again highlighted poor disaster preparedness in the country’s largest city.

Landslides triggered by torrential rain in early June killed 23 people in the commercial capital Abidjan, according to the National Civil Defence Office (ONPC).

“Every year, at the same time, it is the same thing that we witness. Rains kill people and the authorities still don’t have any solution to save us,” lamented Karim Konaté, a resident of a shanty settlement near the upscale suburb of Cocody.

In 2013, floods killed two people, and at least 49 were killed between 2009 and 2011, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Up to 80,000 Abidjan residents could be affected by flooding this year, according to OCHA.

City slums in Cocody or the Yopougon industrial district in western Abidjan have seen serious flooding. Urban planning expert Ferdinand Brou Kouamé explained that migration to the city since 2002 when the country was plunged into a political crisis has driven up the population of Abidjan and overstretched infrastructure.

“For almost 10 years the government let many people construct settlements at their own risk, and today it is difficult to evict them quickly,” Kouamé told IRIN.

“Today we have flood victims, tomorrow there will be a need to rescue those living on the sea shore who are regularly swamped by rising waters. No measures are being taken to resettle them to safer ground. Only when disaster strikes do we play firemen.”

Inducements to move

The Ivoirian government is offering US$2,000 for each of the 23 families that have lost a loved one and agrees to relocate from the areas susceptible to flooding and landslides. An emergency response plan has also been set up and the authorities are seeking 850 hectares of land to relocate those living in risky zones.

The military has been deployed to help inform the public about flood dangers, clean up and unclog drains, clear roads and restore telephone and power lines. The operation includes identifying rescue sites in each neighbourhood as well as setting up an army operation command with a toll free number.

Four shanty towns, home to some 25,000 people, will be completely destroyed, while 50,000 other informal settlement residents are to be relocated from flood-prone areas where people are forced to live due to poverty, proximity to work and high rents elsewhere. Others have held back moving from the risky areas waiting for government assistance, according to OCHA.
“There is no other way,” said ONPC Director Kili Fiacre. “They have to be evicted. We know there is the problem of poverty and it is difficult to relocate the population, but I think we don’t have a choice.”

Kili decried the lack of cooperation by community leaders to avert flooding disasters and pointed out that some residents abandon their homes during the rainy season and return after the rains have gone.

“We live here because we have little means,” said security guard Ahmed Konaté, a resident of a Cocody slum. “Every year the government promises to find us a safer location, but it does not tell us who is going to pay the rent.”

Kouamé said that asking slum dwellers to relocate was unrealistic. “You can’t ask someone who earns $50 a month to go and live in a house that costs $100 a month.”

“Moreover these districts are home to labourers in industries in the country’s south and their families are actively involved in small and medium enterprises. The government sees their importance [for the economy], but fails to acknowledge that proper planning of their neighbourhoods is vital,” he said, adding: “The city is growing every year without concomitant urban sanitation.”

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