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DEVELOPMENT-TOGO: High Cost of Living Exacerbated By Floods

Noël Kokou Tadégnon

LOME, Aug 8 2008 (IPS) - Recent flooding in Togo caused the collapse of over 10 bridges connecting the capital of Lomé to the north of the country. The consequences have been increased transportation costs and a steady climb in the price of consumer products.

Lomé has been almost completely cut off from the northern part of the country after torrential rains last month destroyed numerous bridges and roads in southern Togo. As a result, people traveling north must make a lengthy detour to the west through the town of Kpalimé.

“We increased the price because of the 100 km detour when leaving Lomé,” explained Gérard Akohin in a conversation with IPS. The transportation union’s decision to increase all fares to all destinations by 1,500 CFA francs (approximately $3.60).

The cost of shipping goods has also increased in the West African nation, which has inflated prices for consumer items, especially maize. Northern Togo is the country’s bread basket, and with that region cut off, very few distributors are traveling to the area for agricultural products.

The flooding also affected maize fields which further reduces the amount available on the market. The cost of one kilogramme of maize went from 850 CFA (about $2) before the floods to 1,500 CFA ($3.60) last weekend. Other items, such as beans and charcoal, have seen increases as well.

These new price hikes come in the midst of a global food crisis that is already having a devastating effect on the poorest populations.

“We’re holding on by a thread and on the verge of famine – our buying power shrinks every day whereas prices keep climbing. The situation is critical,” says Komla Alagbé, a teacher in Lomé.

“It is a highly volatile situation,” declared Aladjou Agouta, Secretary General of the Association togolaise des consommateurs (Togolese Consumers Association), commenting on “a wave of speculation never before seen in the country.” According to him, steps should be taken against speculation and price hikes.

Kossi Messan Ewovor, Togo’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, agrees. “Market women are setting the prices at levels we deem unacceptable,” he says. “It is true that bridges have collapsed and access routes have been destroyed, but the prices are not justifiable,” he added.

In addition to destroying roads and bridges, at least 10,000 people were affected by the flooding, including nine deaths.

Angèle Mensah, a market woman from Djagblé, a village 20 km Northeast of Lomé told IPS: “The water was too powerful, all our belongings were carried away and our homes destroyed.”

Many evacuees were rescued by Ghanaian and French army personnel (from Ivory Coast’s Operation Unicorn) who came to support Togolese troops. Evacuees found shelter in nearby schools and churches. The main opposition party – the Union des forces de changement (UFC) – quickly sent its representatives to affected areas. The UFC criticized the dismal state of Togolese roadways, which it said were inadequate to the country’s needs. In a public declaration made after the floods, the UFC called for the resignation of the current government.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yaovi Agboyibo’s party, the Action Committee for Renewal, called on the government to launch a solidarity fund in support of flood victims.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations are providing support locally to evacuees. Amitié et action pour le développement (Friendship and Action for Development), based in Lomé, offered blankets, mosquito nets, shoes, bedsheets and clothes. “We’re hoping to alleviate the victims’ suffering and ensure that they are well protected during the rainy season,” said Koumana Bogra, the Executive Director.

While authorities and NGOs rush to help victims in southern Togo rebuild, the north has started to see torrential rains, also. Two bridges the beginning of the month in two northern cities, Sotouboua and Kara.

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