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GAMBIA: Families Left Homeless by Floods

Saikou Jammeh

BANJUL, Gambia , Dec 29 2010 (IPS) - Amie Manneh and her family lived securely in their single-bedroom home in Bundung, 15 kilometers from the capital, Banjul. Then their home was destroyed by heavy rainfall in September. Since then Amie, her husband and six children have been living in the damaged house.

Amie Manneh and her baby Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS Credit: Saikou Jammeh

Amie Manneh and her baby Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS Credit: Saikou Jammeh

“All of us sleep here, my husband and our six children,” she said, pointing at the small room – part of which is severely cracked, making it not only vulnerable to the weather but also to rats.

The Gambia experienced heavy rains throughout July, August, and September, resulting in severe floods, which caused the loss of lives, crops and livelihoods, as well as large-scale damage to infrastructure and household property.

According to Mawdo Jallow, the regional disaster management coordinator of the area, in the rural Upper River region of The Gambia, eighty percent of swamp rice fields across more than seventeen villages were destroyed. Close to 200 homes were also destroyed by floods.

“We were expecting a good harvest this year because there was enough rain, but our crops were destroyed by floods,” said the village head of Chamoi Bunda village. “Forty hectares of my village’s communal rice fields, as well as a number of individual and family farms, were all lost to the floods.”

In the village of Bantunding in Wuli, Upper River region, the floods also sparked a crocodile infestation and villagers were advised to abandon their farms. But farmers in the rural-Upper River region are not the only ones without a harvest this year, as similar situations occurred in the rural-Lower River region where heavy rains have washed crops away.

“We have no hope this year as far as harvesting is concerned,” said Pierre Bah, district head of Niani. “After all the hard work, everything has come to zero.” “We are not receiving our monthly salaries, neither are we entitled to any allowance. Our farms are our source of survival. It is our last hope,” said Mamanding Suwaneh, 67, the village head of Wassu, where over 300 hectares of rice fields were destroyed by floodwaters.

According to the executive director of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), Essa Khan, over 34 000 people have been affected by this year’s floods.

Although he declined to give a breakdown of the impact pending the approval of the vice president. The latest country assessment conducted by the national disaster body, in collaboration with partners – including Red Cross – reveals that by the end of September,12 lives had been lost, including a teenage girl on her way from school, who was washed away by the floods.

“Over 6 000 people have been displaced and have sought refuge in neighbouring houses, schools and community structures,” the report states. The displaced population – a high proportion of whom are extremely poor and which comprises mostly of women and children, has critical food and non-food needs. Water, hygiene and sanitation have become a major concern.

Significant loss of livelihoods has also been reported, particularly for small traders and farmers whose goods have been destroyed or damaged and their farms submerged.

In September the Government declared a state of emergency and launched an appeal for additional relief and rehabilitation efforts both at national level and abroad.

Since Amie’s local authority is Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC), she was directed by the councillor in her area to seek assistance there.

“I went to KMC,” she says, “and I was given 3 bags of rice, a 10 litre gallon of [cooking] oil, and 5 kilogrammes of sugar.” However, this gesture has done little to help Amie and her family out of their predicament. “I already had bags of rice before my house fell down,” she says. “What I need is cement and sand or help of any kind to reconstruct my house.”

Just a week before Amie’s house was destroyed parliamentarian Sidia Jatta highlighted that the magnitude of this year’s floods exceeded the capacity of the victims to cope using their own resources.

“In my view, giving food items is a good gesture but it does not necessarily amount to substantive relief granted to disaster victims,” Sidia says. “What constitutes substantive relief is to return the victim as close as possible to his or her financial or material well-being prior to the disaster.

However, according to Essa Khan, the Gambia is achieving success in its disaster management strategies every year. “We are in a transition from managing the crises to managing the risk,” he said. “We have decentralised our activities. Each of the administrative regions now has regional disaster coordinators headed by the traditional chiefs, who carry on the activities of building community resilience,” he added.

According to Khan, plans are underway to transform the existing Village Development Committee to the Disaster Management Coordinators at village level, but he acknowledges that it requires money.

He further added that relief is not sustainable, hence The Gambia is also implementing the Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, which requires AU member states to increase political commitment to disaster risk reduction, improve identification and assessment of disaster risk, increase public awareness of disaster risk reduction, improve governance and integrate disaster risk reduction in emergency management.

“We noticed that some of the people are settling in areas that are prone to floods. We can’t drastically evict them but we will step up advocacy campaigns.” But with all the millions’ worth of valuable items disbursed to help the disaster victims, coupled with years of devising strategies, Amie’s priority has been misplaced.

She says she is desperate for a home for her family. Her carpenter husband is finding it difficult to cope with the daily upkeeping of the family’s needs because he is unable to win contracts. “My husband has not been working for a while; otherwise I would not have been seeking assistance,” bemoaned Amie.

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