Weather & Natural Disasters

Record flooding hammers the African Sahel, the latest in a series of shocks

Key Points
  • On September 7, Senegal recorded 124 millimeters of rain over the course of a seven-hour downpour. This is the same amount that would usually be expected across the entire rainy season running from July to September.
  • In Nigeria, particularly the northwestern Kebbi State, flooding has damaged more than 500,000 hectares of farm produce amounting to around 5 billion naira ($13 million), according to NKC African Economics.
  • Sudan imposed a three-month state of emergency on September 4, with rains having destroyed around 100,000 houses and killed more than 100 people.
  • In South Sudan, more than 100 people have died and an estimated 5,000 have been displaced due to overflowing of the White Nile, according to the country's state news agency, while floods have also wreaked havoc on parts of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.
KHARTOUM, SUDAN - SEPTEMBER 8: A view of the site damaged by flood during heavy rains in Al Lamab of Khartoum, Sudan on September 8, 2020.
Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

From Senegal to Ethiopia and beyond, record levels of flooding are devastating the African Sahel region, with the UN warning that the situation could worsen throughout September.

On September 7, Senegal recorded 124 millimeters of rain over the course of a seven-hour downpour. This is the same amount that would usually be expected across the entire rainy season running from July to September, and prompted authorities in the West African coastal nation to activate an emergency aid plan.

The unprecedented rainfall has decimated homes, livestock and plantations across multiple countries already battling the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, widespread food insecurity and a host of other concurrent shocks, such as the historic locust outbreak ravaging parts of the east, and various violent conflicts.

In Nigeria, particularly the northwestern Kebbi State, flooding has damaged more than 500,000 hectares of farm produce amounting to around 5 billion naira ($13 million), according to NKC African Economics. Rice farmers in the area have voiced concerns about food security and business sustainability given the lack of harvest this year, while agricultural output has been affected by terrorism and banditry.

"Prices in Nigeria had been going up rapidly before the floods, owing to restrictions on imports and naira weakness, and the heavy rains will only tend to exacerbate the situation," NKC political analyst Zaynab Mohamed said in a report Wednesday.

DAKAR, Senegal - Residents transport their belongings with a horse pulling a cart through flood waters in the Keurs Massar area in Dakar on September 7, 2020 after heavy rains in Senegal.
SEYLLOU/AFP via Getty Images

In Niger, the Niger River overflowed and shut down the country's capital city of Niamey, killing at least 45 people and displacing around 226,000, according to the latest available data from the country's Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. Meanwhile, more than 1,500 families have been driven from their homes in northern Cameroon.

Sudan imposed a three-month state of emergency on September 4, with rains having destroyed around 100,000 houses and killed more than 100 people. Water sources, school and health facilities have been damaged in their thousands. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has said a $1.6 billion aid plan for Sudan is less than 44% funded and aid stocks have been severely depleted.

In South Sudan, more than 100 people have died and an estimated 5,000 have been displaced due to overflowing of the White Nile, according to the country's state news agency, while floods have also wreaked havoc on parts of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.

The Sahel and savannah regions of Africa have faced a triple-whammy of threats to socio-economic resilience and food security over the past year, with the floods compounding existing challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic and locust outbreaks.

"As a result, people's livelihoods are severely affected and household resilience is reduced in countries with minimum fiscal space for disaster management and aid provision," NKC's Mohamed said.

Floods are a regular occurrence during the rainy season, but this year's rainfall has been exceptional by all measures, highlighting the impact of climate change feared by governments and humanitarian organizations. UNOCHA has warned that the rain forecast for September will likely deepen the current crisis.

"Lack of investment in infrastructure will result in the persistence of food insecurity and vulnerability after flooding, while large numbers of displaced people, and the increased competition for land that will result from land degradation caused by the floods, will contribute to political and conflict risk," Mohamed projected.