Record Flooding Kills at Least 200 in Africa's Sahel Region

Unprecedented rainfall has displaced hundreds of thousands, and led experts to warn of potential food shortages.
Jamie Clifton
London, United Kingdom
September 11, 2020, 2:06pm
sudan flooding
A man wades through the floodwaters in Khartoum. September, 2020. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Around 760,000 people have been affected by severe flooding in Africa’s Sahel region, with Sudan, Niger, South Sudan and Nigeria among the worst-hit countries.

Flooding is common during the Sahel’s rainy season, between June and September, but in recent years a combination of climate change, land deterioration and poor urban planning have led to more crises in the region’s growing cities.

After unprecedented rainfall, the Niger River overflowed, killing at least 45 in Niger’s capital, Niamey, and leading to the displacement of around 226,000 people, according to the latest government data. Across Sudan – which has imposed a three-month state of emergency – and South Sudan, at least 200 people have been killed, with 100,000 homes destroyed in Sudan and 5,000 people displaced in South Sudan.

In Nigeria, according to NKC African Economics, flooding has damaged over 500,000 hectares of farm produce. In a report this week, NKC political analyst Zaynab Mohamed said, “Prices in Nigeria had been going up rapidly before the floods, owing to restrictions on imports and naira weakness, and the heavy rains will only tend to exacerbate the situation.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has also warned of potential food shortages as land remains flooded.

Further rain is expected – particularly in central Africa – which will only deepen the problem, Julie Belanger of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told Reuters.

“Many of those populations live in flood-prone areas. It’s just a matter of time for them to be at risk of epidemics,” Belanger added, warning that diseases spread increasingly fast after flooding destroys access to clean water and sanitation.

Climate change is affecting the region in other ways, too. The UN estimates that around 80 percent of the Sahel’s farmland is degraded, and with temperatures rising there 1.5 times faster than in the rest of the world food production is under increasing threat. Over 33 million people in the region are classified as food insecure.

Scientists have warned that temperatures could rise by up to 5C by 2050, worsening an already deeply worrying situation.

Exacerbating problems for countries in the region is a sharp increase of violence in recent years, with jihadi insurgencies creating various no-go areas. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported in June of 2020 that hundreds of innocent civilians had been attacked by armed groups forcing them from their homes. Many thousands more have been displaced by the violence, with the UNHCR providing shelter assistance to more than 25,000 families.

In NKC’s report, analyst Zaynab Mohamed projected, “Lack of investment in infrastructure will result in the persistence of food insecurity and vulnerability after flooding, while large numbers of displaced people – and the increased competition for land that will result from land degradation caused by the floods – will contribute to political and conflict risk.”