, Volume 72, Issue 3, pp 355-377

Damaging Rainfall and Flooding: The Other Sahel Hazards

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Abstract

Damaging rainfall and rain-induced flooding occur from time to time in the drought-prone Sahel savanna zone of Niger in West Africa but official records of these events and their socioeconomic impacts do not exist. This paper utilized newspaper accounts between 1970 and 2000 to survey and illustrate the range of these flood hazards in the Sahel. During the study interval, 53 newspaper articles reported 79 damaging rainfall and flood events in 47 different communities in the Sahel of Niger. Collectively, these events destroyed 5,580 houses and rendered 27,289 people homeless. Cash losses and damage to infrastructure in only three events exceeded $4 million. Sahel residents attribute these floods to five major causes including both natural and anthropogenic, but they view the flood problem as driven primarily by land use patterns. Despite such awareness, traditional coping strategies appear inadequate for dealing with the problems in part because of significant climatic variability. Analysis of several rainfall measures indicates that the cumulative rainfall in the days prior to a heavy rain event is an important factor influencing whether or not heavy rainfall results in flooding. Thus, despite some limitations, newspaper accounts of historical flooding are largely consistent with measured climatic variables. The study demonstrates that concerted effort is needed to improve the status of knowledge concerning flood impacts and indeed other natural and human hazards in the Sahel.