Niger: How rapid coordination saved lives during the flooding of Imbelbellou

25 October, 2011
Villagers flee from flooded houses to the high ground, in Imbelbellou, Niger. Credit: OCHA/Idrissa Conteh
Villagers flee from flooded houses to the high ground, in Imbelbellou, Niger. Credit: OCHA/Idrissa Conteh

On the night of 28 June, a heavy downpour almost swallowed Imbelbellou – a village of 7000 inhabitants in a precarious valley in the Maradi region of southern Niger.

Maradi is Niger’s most populous region, and the country’s breadbasket, but is prone to natural disasters and vulnerable to epidemics.

The day after the downpour, the people of Imbelbellou were scared. The future of their village hung in the balance.

Realizing he had no time to waste, the village headman ran to the office of the Nigerien Red Cross to ask for help.

He was asked to get in touch with Idrissa Conteh, the head of the local OCHA Sub-Office.  

On hearing the news, Mr Conteh rushed to assess the situation. Most of the village was flooded - and there were fears of a malaria and cholera outbreak.

“If nothing is done today, and it rains again this evening, the whole village and its inhabitants will be swept away,” warned Sanda Natahi, an inhabitant of Imbelbellou, who works for the national television station.

Wheels were set in motion. Mr Conteh informed Sidi Mohamed, the regional governor. OCHA also helped mobilize and coordinate assistance – and called an emergency meeting to solicit support.

NGOs such as CARE, World Vision, and AREN (Association pour la Redynamisation de l’Elevage au Niger) gave on the spot cash donations. UNICEF provided tools, masks and gloves, and the Africa Muslims Agency provided food rations for a month. A cash-for-work project was started the very same day.

Fuel was bought for a bulldozer, and men were paid to dig gutters - draining the flood waters, and clearing away rubbish that was blocking the waterways. Before sunset, most of the water had been diverted, and many villagers who had been displaced were able to return home.  

The following night, as feared, 180mm of rain fell on Imbelbellou. But the danger had been averted. The rain ran freely into the gutters, and emptied into the plains and forests below the village.

The village of Imbelbellou was saved.

“Effective coordination is a stitch in time. Your ability to mobilize partners and raise the required funds in record time speaks volumes about the essence of coordination during emergencies,” said Sidi Mohamed, the Governor of Maradi Region.  

“We now know what OCHA does and why it is present here in our region,” said Malan Ousmane Abdoulaye, a trader and Muslim cleric of the village. “The Red-Cross made no mistake in referring us to the OCHA sub-office.”
 
“The efficiency and timely manner in which the looming crisis was managed is a vivid example of coordination at its best,” added Idrissa Mahamadou Sani, Executive Secretary of the Nigerien Red-Cross in Maradi. 

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