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Togo: Flood preparations underway as first storms hit

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Togo
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LOME, 5 May 2009 (IRIN) - Battered by rainstorms in the north in 2007 and the south in 2008, Togo is bracing for even more severe flood damage in 2009, disaster relief officials in the country told IRIN.

"These predictions have already been confirmed with the first storms," said the head of Togo's Red Cross catastrophe preparation and relief programme, Victor Sodogas. He told IRIN violent winds on 18 and 19 April "ravaged" rooftops in five localities in the interior, while residents in the Nyékonapkoé neighbourhood of the capital Lomé woke up to flooding in their homes one week later. "No lives were lost and damages were minor, but it [the rainy season] has arrived."

Preparation

He said the Red Cross in April trained more than 400 volunteers to be deployed to the three most flood-prone areas: northern savannah and southern coastal and plateau regions. Fifty of the volunteers can also be deployed to other areas as needed. Training included teaching flood prevention, conducting a census and providing assistance after a flood.

Sodogas told IRIN Red Cross has installed an early warning system in five villages in flood-prone zones of the coastal region.

Abra Gbenouga, who lives on the outskirts of the capital in Adakpamé, told IRIN that while she welcomes flood relief, a warning would be better. "Our homes were flooded [last year] to the point our children took canoes to school. We received assistance...but it is better to receive warning of intemperate weather than to get assistance [afterward]."

Last year's flooding killed at least nine people and displaced more than 10,000, according to the government; the displaced estimate is several times lower than some relief groups' figures. "Because of lack of coordination between different intervention services, we could not calculate exact damages," said Ministry of Civilian Protection director Kpatcha Afeignidou.

He told IRIN the population lost millions of dollars in livestock, property and infrastructure.

Recovering

Red Cross's Sodogas told IRIN people are still recovering from last year's rains. "Many people saw their homes, fields and animals completely carried away by water...Many [flood] victims try to manage but the impact flooding had on their lives is still visible."

Mathieu Yao, a herder in Tsikplonoukondji - 25 km north of Lomé - told IRIN that in 2008 water reached his chest as he carried his 14-year-old daughter to safety. "I lost everything. When I returned [to my home] in September [2008], my kitchen and animals were decimated." He told IRIN he lost 25 ducks, 35 chickens, seven sheep, and all his manioc and sugar cane crops.

African Development Bank (ADB) recently gave US$500,000 for 20,000 victims of the 2008 storms in Togo. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is coordinating with the government and ADB on how to spend the money. "The impact of flooding stretches out over a long period. We still need to assist [2008] flood victims," WFP head of office in Togo, Arnauld Blazy, told IRIN.

The money will go toward purchasing medicines and speedboats and repairing buildings, bridges, homes and telephone lines, according to ADB.

Civilian protection director Afeignidou told IRIN the government has learned from its mistakes. "Last year's flooding surprised us to the point we could not organise appropriate relief." He said as a part of a newly drafted contingency plan, local prefects are now in charge of coordinating preparedness and relief in their zones, as well as alerting residents about rainfall levels. "We cannot react only when catastrophes happen," said Afeignidou.

In January the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) conducted flood simulation exercises for both Benin and Togo that included a scenario on how governments would respond to a natural disaster during a pandemic.

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