Syndicate content

Benin under water

Daniel Sellen's picture

I've written before about floods in Niger and Abidjan, but these experiences left me poorly prepared for what I saw in Benin a few days ago.

Half the country is under water, and it's still raining.

We recently received a request from the President of Benin to assist with recent flooding. I was asked to go take a look, get a feel for the scale of the problem, find out what Government and donors were doing about it, and make some recommendations for Bank action.

 After booking my flight, I did a Google search which revealed no details, even from OCHA, the UN's humanitarian branch. So I was sceptical about finding the type of damage I had seen elsewhere in the region over the past two months. If there was a big problem, the international press didn't seem to know about it. If they did, perhaps they were too tired of Haiti, Pakistan, or spoiling the euphoria following the rescued miners.

So I flew to the capital city of Cotonou, which is built on a narrow stretch of sand dunes between the Atlantic Ocean and a large lagoon. After briefings from the Ministers of Interior and Decentralization, we toured the flooded areas of Cotonou in canoes. I have not been to Venice, so had not experienced the odd sensation of boating down a city street. The water was thick, black and ominous -- a brackish cocktail of floating garbage and the contents of countless latrines (there is no sewage treatment in Cotonou). I could imagine the water-borne diseases happily multiplying in this soup. Indeed, the latest reports are that 800 people have already come down with cholera, a figure which must certainly rise much higher.


Despite water levels, most people appeared to remain in their homes and many came out to watch us float by. Some were sleeping in boats. Other families were living in schools, displacing the students who had just started the new school year two weeks ago.

The scale of the problem changed when we got up in an army helicopter. We flew over the southern third of the country, and it immediately became apparent that over half of the country was submerged. In terms of food production, the floods could not have come at a worse time, with the harvest just weeks away. The Oueme basin was the worst hit, and it was difficult to say where the river was and where it wasn't. There were no roads visible anywhere. Many families were living in or on their roofs, peeling up a section of sheet metal to act as a door to their attic.

Some people waved at us, obviously asking for help or rescue, reminiscent of the disturbing images from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After three weeks in the water with no help from the outside, they must be getting desperate.

The UN system is now on the job, although relief has at this time not reached the population. In the brief space of a week, the situation has gone from being completely under the radar to Benin being recognized as the most heavily impacted by flooding in West Africa.

And our role? It is an uncomfortable experience to be World Bank staff on a visit to the site of a disaster.

An NGO asked pointedly what the Bank would put on the table in terms of relief efforts. A journalist interviewed me, wondering what we intended to do to help those suffering. A lady, standing knee-deep in water as we drove by, yelled at me in a local language, apparently expressing her outrage that no one was helping them.

I had no satisfactory answer for any of them. We are not a relief agency and shouldn't try to be. We cannot promise quick fixes like food, shelter, or medical care, no matter how important that is.

However, there is plenty we can do and must do in the recovery period. We can give the government some fiscal breathing room with accelerated budget support. Through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), we can conduct a post-disaster needs assessment to figure out where the Bank and other donors should focus efforts in the medium term. We can help with an early warning system, as we and the GFDRR are doing in Togo. We have a new urban environment project to address water treatment and solid waste management. We are preparing an agriculture operation that can request emergency financing from the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP). Our community development and education projects can re-think the locations of sub-projects like schools and aim for drier ground.

We can do all that, and it will help ease the pain of the next flood. Meanwhile, we have to hope that the rains stops, the water recedes, and that these flood victims figure out how to survive.

Here are some pictures of what I saw:




























































Submitted by daniel on
Christine: These were taken on October 14. I can't be too precise, but these pix are from the north side of Cotonou and the villages to the north of Lac Nokoue. Much of the south looks like this.

Submitted by Fati Badjo on
I'm african and very concern about what my continent is going through. Thank you so much for posting these images. This is not just for the UN to solve every aspects of our daily lives. Our leaders should do their best too. But they are so fed up with corruption than thinking to improve our population lives. Thank you UN for being there for us. Keep up with the good work.

Submitted by Vincent on
Thank you for these pictures. The situation is very serious and something need to be done. It is not only in Benin. Togo is in also facing the same situation. This is a strong signal that issue of environment in West Africa needs more attention than it is today. It is important that the states in West Africa invest for mapping this region and build up a database system to inform the public. The reason is that in the dry season, the land located in this flooding areas will be sold. People will continuing to build house and thereby increase the likelihood for flooding since there is no sewage system in these area. Other problem which could lower the impact of the flooding is the control of solid waste and proper sanitation. I hope that our state will understand the need to invest in these field in the coming years.

Submitted by Jean-Claude M on
Obviously, this disaster has been ignored. This is not new when Africa is concerned but this is no excuse not to try to do something. Thanks for informing us. What needs to be done is making sure that there are media coverage. CNN as well as BBC, Al Jazira, France 24, etc., should be pressured to help make this disaster known. The African diaspora should mobilize wherever they are to come to the rescue of the affected people. Through our staff Union, together with other UN colleagues, we are planning a fund raising in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, as we did for Pakistan, Haiti, etc. For the future, with World Bank and AfDB help, costly investments in canals, levies and other similar infrastructure need to be made to prevent this disaster happening again, or at least to mitigate its effects. Building standards should be improved (and enforced) to take this risk into account. More people should be encouraged to settle away from Cotonou, maybe in the new capital city if it is not also flooded. If it is, new cities on higher grounds in the country should be planned and developed.

Submitted by Charles Macaulay on
Why do you think the media ignores problems in Africa?--The less Africans you have in the world the easier it is to grab their resources. Aids, civil wars, floods and famine, you name it. Nobody will help us than we ourselves. As it is today, individually, we cannot survive but as a united group of nations we shall rise and build Africa. Europe as diverse as it is is pushing for unity. Why not us? If they can, we too can! Amen.

Submitted by abdul nafiwu on
where from the flood? has it ever happen to Benin before? is Benin in a low land area?. This is one of the biggest disaster ever happened. All African countries must show the spirit of oneness to help Benin out of this mess. We should not for donor agencies to come to aid Benin. This is indeed a sad news.

Submitted by Charles C. Musa on
The World Bank is a very great organization. The World Bank has done alot of good things for many nations. Please, i will love to appeal that the World Bank should try to be engaged in relief efforts (Mr Daniel Sellen; Who stated that the World Bank is not a relief agency, should champion this idea. Of course, i believe he is a good man, and the horrible flood situation he has seen in Benin, should give him a reason to advocate this idea to The World Bank).

Submitted by Amon on
I think Africans should realize that too much complains wont help, I'm African I feel the pain of my continent, I feel like African Government and it's people aren't doing enough to solve these problems, I don't Expect the West to come and solve out problems as they have problems of their own too. Plus We shouldn't forget that they are the only one's who kept us into this mess by Colonizing us for so F**kin Long. I would suggest Africans should work up and work real hard together, That is when we will be able to combat these catastrophes, Africa should be for Africans, F**ck The West.

Submitted by Rosemary Bellew on
Mr. Sellen - Two thoughts. First, I think that your posting could have portrayed the Bank in a more positive light. For example, it could have said that while the Bank is not a relief organization, it is working with .....(insert other organizations) to survey the damage and mobilize resources for relief efforts. The World Bank is also fast-tracking the processing of its support for .... Second, you are absolutely right that there has been little information on the extensive flooding until two days ago. Further, there has been no information at all on how one can contribute to the relief efforts. There is a network of former Peace Corps Volunteers that is right now messaging asking this question. It would be very helpful if there were a link to some relief organization/ fund for individuals to make contributions to the relief effort.

Submitted by Anonymous Alex George on
The flod pictures could give a proper idea as to the gravity of the situation and the extent of trpuble faced by the peopele. Alex george India

Submitted by Aladi on
I came to apply for a job on WorldBank website and ended up reading this dishearting news. I cant believe the news is not out there with the intensity it deserves. Danielle Sellen says people are on the roof and boats, this is still un imaginable to me despite the pictures. I want to volunteer for something please, I'm a student and dont really have money right now, but am African and can't sit down and wait for something to be done. (Africa really needs urban planning, this shouldnt be happening in this day and age). Danielle please contact me for any volunteer opportunities, I begging to help. Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous on
i feel the pain of my continent greatly. Africans should better rise and help their brothers and not wait for the UN , bcos only God knows how long it will take...these people need our help. African countries near Benin should please do something fast.

Submitted by Edith C. O on
That has been the problem in Benin for a long time now. Especially, when it rains three to four days. The areas you can find such flood are places like Porto-Novo, Abomey Calvi and riverine areas; part of Cotonou which is the commerical city are Senade, Akpodenum, Gbjiromide, Aiyelawadge etc Benin’s Mono river typically floods into central Benin during rainy season. After some time, it dries off. Since the new President has taken over power, he is doing his effort to improve Benin.

Submitted by plecknova on
Many thanks for sharing this Am beninese but leaving abroad and even though am watching beninese channels on tv and have good contact with people and family back home, i have never thought it was such a drama. i do think our local media should do more about the quality/quality of information being put out BUT i really doubt they could have access to an army helicopter to have the view like u got the chance to..and seen from the sky you have a better view of how big/serious the damages are.

Submitted by Ross on
Looking at the pictures and reading the reports on the flooding highlights the need to re-think the way the reconstruction processes are undertaken. Simply rebuilding what was lost simply continues the cycle when with the same amount of money we can create a new economic environment where everyone benefits not just offshore companies, the politicians or corrupt officials. Everyone wins because of the local employment and business opportunities created and people can take control of their own destiny. This outcome is possible by changing the way reconstruction funding is applied, monitored and controlled. The traditional method of applying and distributing funds for reconstruction are tried and true but are not obviously not effective because the same cycle continues.

Submitted by Carla Columna on
While I was reading the article I wondered what will be done once the water will have withdrawn from the land. Which solutions to provide safe drinking water will be used, are there any efforts to support and promote sustainable, decentralized solutions that can help the people immediatly? As there is no centralized waste water treating system the city needs decentralized solutions to provide its people with freshwater. Has anyone ever tried DEWATS in this region. It is a proven solution which has been provided in country like India, Indonesia and east plus southern Africa. Unfortunately it might not have disseminated to western Africa. If somebody reads this and is interested in an relatively low cost, sustainable and easy to maintain solution to treat wastewater in small and medium scale please search for BORDA. I have heard of this organization a couple of weeks ago and they are doing great work in asia and southern africa.

Submitted by Denise Rolark Barnes on
Daniel...I publish a weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C...the Washington Informer. This evening, I was contacted by two ministers who appealed to me to work with them to get a story done about the flooding in Benin. Like you, I Googled it and found your blog. Can you help? Would you be willing to produce a piece and let us use some photos for our readers in the D.C. area? The website is I'll end here and wait to hear from you. Bless you and thanks for sharing this information.

Submitted by daniel on
Hello Denise, and thank you for your interest. Yes, feel free to use any of the text or photos with attribution. best regards, daniel

Submitted by Moïse Sonou on
Thank you for throwing some light on this disaster. The situation is even worse in the villages in the lower Oueme valley. Houses, food reserves and cattle have been washed away. In DEKIN, a village of 10,420 inhabitants in the District of DANGBO, more than one third of the population lost their houses and other belongings. While the next lowland cropping season is fast nearing, these farmers are faced with the challenge of reconstruction and farming without inputs and the needed food items.

Submitted by Abbey on
Its really a sad story that I'v just read, we'v seen hurricanes devastation spread across the globe from the US to Asia but we all seem to have forgotten the fact that the Earth is composed of two thirds of water and denying its continuous path will only lead to over flooding of the banks. Back to the subject of the Republic of Benin's flood terrains; we should act fast by first finding means of evaluating people stranded in such areas, secondly attending to cholera prone areas thus, stopping the spread of the endemic disease, thirdly reconstruction of affected areas both in terms of housing and drainage which can only ensure that water either Rain or over flooded can be channeled in the right directions and finally human factor will respect to our individual attitude towards our environment should be cautioned. This is needless to say that our African Leaders should not be made responsible in this respect by not playing our typical black attitude politics with our society and minds. To finally conclude, my prayers are that this situation is quickly resolved any which way it is best possible for the people of the Republic of Benin and respite be re-stalled by into the region.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa I know that we have to take it to the goal ‘Cause everyone’s depending on we See, we ain’t got nowhere to go But it’s our destiny We’re choosing nowhere We’ll do what it takes to get to the top Of the highest mountain We’ll do anything We got to prove ourselves ‘Cause we know Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa See, we’ll never be able to forget this day ‘Cause it’s the greatest day of our life See, no matter what happens, at least we can say We came, we saw, we tried [ Akon Lyrics are found on ] We’re choosing nowhere We’ll do what it takes to get to the top Of the highest mountain We’ll do anything We’ve got to prove ourselves ‘Cause we know Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa This is our time to shine, our time to fly Our time to be inside the sky Our time to soar, our time of show The last one in football Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa Oh, Africa

Add new comment