Floods still threaten the Central African Republic
The rainy season, which runs from April to October, is an additional source of concern in the Central African Republic, a country already ravaged by more than a decade of conflict. During this period, numerous rivers overflow their banks after torrential rains, causing significant damage in areas with inadequate sanitation, poor waste management and a lack of urban planning. In 2019, nearly 100,000 people saw their homes flooded and destroyed and their source of water polluted, prompting most to move to temporary sites or to stay with host families. This damage happens in a country where basic social services are already severely degraded. If floods occur this year in the same proportions as in 2019, the vulnerabilities of the population will be further exacerbated in a context where the available resources face ever increasing needs due to COVID-19. As of October 5, only 63 per cent of the funds required for the humanitarian response to critical needs in 2020 have been mobilized.
Knowing more about the problem in order to solve it
In early September, the NGO REACH undertook a flood susceptibility study in populated areas in order to improve disaster preparedness. To develop a flood risk score, the results of this study, funded by the Humanitarian Fund for the Central African Republic (CAR), were subsequently cross-checked with those of the multisectoral needs assessments conducted in 2019. The data from this study, also shared with governmental authorities, revealed that the Prefectures of Ouham and Kémo have the highest risk of flooding (with more than 203,000 people at high risk), while those of Nana-Mambéré and Ouham Pendé are at low risk. This study also showed that most urban centers in CAR are located next to rivers and their watersheds, around which the livelihoods of many are developed. The banks of these rivers tend to overflow in the face of the increasing amount of precipitation collected in their watersheds. Thus, if no adaptation of infrastructure and contingency planning are considered, downstream interventions will not be sufficient for populations already battered by more than a decade of conflict and several other shocks.
In order to ensure optimal preparation in the face of the risk of flooding, a Technical Committee has been set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and National Reconciliation with the participation of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Central African Directorate General of Civil Protection, the Central African Red Cross, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the city council of Bangui. This new structure made it possible to coordinate field visits in September in Bangui to identify risk areas and priority preparedness measures. Additionally, in coordination with MINUSCA, a mission to assess the level of the Oubangui River upstream was undertaken in mid-October.
MINUSCA is providing technical support, in close coordination with the city council of Bangui and OCHA, to the heavy work of cleaning of canals and markets as well as the securing of drainage canals.
Disaster victims in need of assistance
The floods reported so far have affected about 22,000 people accross the country. A first humanitarian response was necessary to come to the aid of the displaced following the floods observed at the end of September on the border between Chad and CAR. Heavy rains have also damaged two IDPs’ sites in October in Birao in the northeast, particularly shelters and water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) facilities. Some needs from the 2019 floods persist, while other, new ones, are emerging.
While most of the people displaced by last year’s floods have returned home, more than 6,000 people are still settled in sites spread across Bangui. Following the permanent threats of flooding in the home areas of some flood victims, the government is considering their relocation.
Most of the 1,100 families living along the Bahr Aouk River in Ngarba-Bord and Am Ndjamena in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in northern CAR on the border with Chad, fled in August and September to neighboring villages, following flooding. The river overflowed its banks following the torrential rains that fell in the region, destroying homes, basic infrastructure and crops. Several other residents in the border region fled along the Ngarba-Akoursoubak axis under difficult conditions. Their most pressing needs are food, drinking water, medical care, shelter and basic household items. Security has been very precarious in this area for a long time without the presence of the State. Among these victims are Chadian refugees, displaced persons, and Central African returnees.
Following a first reconnaissance flight made by OCHA, the United Nations World Food Programme and the NGO REACH on September 23, aid workers identified the most effective means to assist those affected and to deliver emergency aid to this region, which is difficult to access, especially considering security and logistical constraints. A first distribution of essential household items was carried out at the end of September by the NGOs Solidarités International and Première Urgence Internationale. At the end of November, SI, as part of the Rapid Reaction Mechanism, was distributing basic household items to 1,500 families of 7,500 people on the Ndélé-Miamani axis. In the same region north of Ndélé, on the Ndélé-Tiri axis, 6,750 people are in urgent need of water, hygiene and sanitation, and humanitarian actors are currently planning an intervention to respond to these needs.
Shelter and sanitation facilities of hundreds of people were damaged at the Yata and Aerodrome IDP sites in Birao following heavy rains in mid-October. With the support of the NGO ACTED, 235 IDPs have received emergency kits consisting of tarpaulins, mats, blankets, buckets, soap, jerry cans and cooking items. At the same IDP sites, the NGO TGH and MINUSCA have organized waste collection and will build four waste pits, latrines and showers to avoid the outbreak of diseases.
In Kabo, in Ouham Prefecture, where 4,500 people are affected by floods, assistance in the form of cash transfers and the distribution of essential household items is planned. However, there remains a significant gap in the food security sector in Kabo. Also in Bangui, disaster victims require assistance in the form of adequate shelter and the security of IDP sites remains a problem.
Signs of further flooding
Assessments initiated in August and September by various actors including the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and National Reconciliation, the General Directorate of Civil Protection and humanitarian organizations noted a significant rise in the water levels of the M'Poko and Oubangui rivers in Bangui and Bimbo, a town near the capital. These flood waters overflowed into the surrounding houses at a height of 50 cm, forcing residents to move in with nearby families. The drainage canals which normally evacuate water to the river are blocked and have are not been maintained. In 2019, 3 per cent of all people displaced in CAR were due to natural disasters.
The results of the Seasonal Climate Forecasting Forum in Central Africa (PRESAC, September 28-29, 2020) are alarming regarding rainfall forecasts in southern Chad and throughout the Central African Republic.