Cameroon is experiencing increasing flooding, which is causing dams to overtop, thus worsening the natural flood impacts. Last month, flood releases from Lagdo Dam are thought to have resulted in many deaths and huge displacement in downstream Nigeria (http://allafrica.com/stories/201209190151.html). Dams be harder to manage as climate change makes rainfall more unpredictable, yet new dams are going to be built that have not been planned with this risk in mind (the most immediate is Lom Pangar, just approved by the World Bank: http://tinyurl.com/98nvmea).
Experts Debate Cause of Increased Flooding in Cameroon
Cameroon has received heavy rain and flooding during the past year. Some experts attribute the unusual weather to climate change, while others point to poor management of dams.
by Nakinti Nofuru, Senior Reporter
Cameroon News Desk
October 4, 2012
BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Margaret Shu, 61, is a retired teacher who now works as a farmer in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon's Northwest region. She says she is surprised about the heavy rains her town received at the end of September.
"In my 32 years in Bamenda, I have never seen such a rain," she says. "It rained so heavily in a short while. While it rained, it poured down hail stones in large quantities."
"In my 32 years in Bamenda, I have never seen such a rain."
Margaret Shu, farmer
The heavy rain caused flooding in her town.
"It was terrible," Shu says.
She says the hail destroyed all her crops.
"The crops that I planted this season were all shredded by the hail stones," Shu says. "The leaves of my newly planted corn, beans and cocoyam were all destroyed."
Shu says Bamenda's rainfall this year is a clear indication of climate change. She says it hurts farmers the most, as heavy rains cause unpredictable seasons that confuse farmers about when to plant. Both heavy rains and drought have ruined crops in recent years.
"I can now see the manifestations of climate change," she says.
Local residents in Bamenda are voicing concerns about the rare heavy rain and the floods that have reached them in recent weeks. Some experts attribute the uncharacteristic weather patterns to climate change. But others attribute increased flooding to poor management of dams, a project the federal government has prioritized for this year.
This year, severe flooding has affected four of Cameroon's 10 regions: the Far North, the North, the East and the Northwest regions, according to local media. The flooding has affected several villages, and thousands of people have lost their homes, property, animals and crops. Official data has not yet been publicized.
In the Northwest region, a flood struck the village of Babessi in the Ngoketunjia division in early September. The flood destroyed farmlands and the homes and property of 26 families, according to local media.
At the end of the month, it rained heavily and hailed in Bamenda. There was flash flooding, leaving vehicles and pedestrians unable to cross the bridge over the main road in the middle of the town, with no option than to wait on both sides for the water level to go down.
Of the vehicles that dared to cross the bridge, some lost their engines in the middle of the water. The rushing water also swept away one motorbike rider who tried to cross the bridge, with the iron bars along the bridge preventing him from falling off.
Businesses and homes endured several inches of water. Owners occupied themselves by draining the buildings and houses.
One onlooker, Augustine Tanteh, looked at the high waters and prayed that it would rain even more.
"I pray that the rain falls even heavier so that there will be flooding here in Bamenda also," he says. "Let it flood so that the president will come to Bamenda also and give some money and food."
President Paul Biya and his wife visited flood victims in the Far North and North regions Sept. 19 and 20 to share their grief and to offer financial and material assistance. Biya disbursed 1.5 billion francs ($3 million) to the victims, according to a government press release.
A U.N. mission also visited the flood sites, according to a U.N. press release. The release also announced the development of an emergency response fund, including food distribution, prevention of health problems, contribution of agricultural input, school rehabilitation and tents for resettlement camps.
But another Bamenda resident, Judith Bih, has a different view.
"I am praying to God almighty not to allow what is happening in other parts of the country to happen here," she says. "Flooding is not a good thing. It is a natural disaster that can destroy more than property. Lives may be lost. God help Bamenda."
As rare flooding continues to plague Cameroon, experts debate the cause.
Beatrice Ndoping is a lecturer at the University of Bamenda who has her doctorate in community development, cooperatives and mutualities. She says the heavy rains in Bamenda are a clear manifestation of climate change.
"In recent years, there has been a major transformation in the global economy in the means of production and in the rate of expansion of urban development," she says. "The population increase and the corresponding technological innovations has led to global deforestation."
She attributes deforestation to several causes.
"Mainly, the conversion of forests to agricultural land, losses through other natural causes each year, the irrational exploitation of forests for capital gains and other uses thus significantly affected tree growth and forest size," she says.
She says the decrease in forests has worsened the effects of pollution, exacerbating the depletion of the ozone.
Ndoping says Bamenda and the region are mostly grasslands. Moreover, people have cut down the region's little trees for fuel and developed the land. She says the lack of trees leads to higher levels of carbon dioxide, which thickens the greenhouse gases around the Earth, intensifying the global warming process.
"Lots and lots of trees must be planted in Bamenda, so as to fight the challenges posed climate change," Ndoping says. "In Bamenda, the planting of trees is on the road map of the administrative calendar."
Biya asked all government leaders at the end of 2011 to prepare "road maps" to outline 2012 plans. The governor of the Northwest region included planting trees on the region's road map.
But Isaac Njilah, an environmentalist with his doctorate in geology, disagrees with Ndoping.
"A lot of people attribute what is happening to climate change," he says. "It is not climate change."
Rather, he attributes the flooding to poorly functioning dams.
"All the four regions in Cameroon that have flooded have dams," he says. "The main cause of the flooding is poor management of the dams."
Njilah uses flooding in the Far North region as an example. Here, Cameroon shares a dam, and therefore reconstruction or maintenance responsibilities, with three other African countries, he says. One of those neighbors, Chad, has built a dike on its side, but Cameroon has not. This has caused the water to seep into Cameroon during periods of high water levels.
"The dams need reconstruction or maintenance to avoid such disasters," he says.
The president said in a public statement during his visit to the Far North and North regions to visit flood victims that the government would disburse funds before the end of this year for experts to start the reconstruction process of the dams in Cameroon.