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Imperialist media close their eyes as

Floods devastate Africa's Sahel

Published Aug 31, 2007 7:12 PM

July and August saw flooding across Africa in countries just south of the Sahara desert, as well as in Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique. South Africa, which is experiencing the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, has seen flooding, too—along with freak snowfalls heavy enough to close the border between South Africa and Lesotho for a time.

While African Web sites and newspapers, as well as the United Nations Information Network, are filled with stories about the floods, the major English-language media in the West have ignored this tragedy. Instead, MSNBC ran a humorous piece Aug. 2 on snow in South Africa. The Washington Post ran a 560-word article Aug. 15.

Half a million Africans are affected. Some have lost their food stocks or seeds for the next crop cycle. Others have seen their houses, made from dried-mud bricks, dissolve in the heavy rain.

Normally, in the rainy season, the bricks melt a bit but people can repair them when the sun comes out. Not this year in many places in the Sahel, a normally semi-desert area just south of the Sahara that stretches from Senegal to Sudan.

Once people lose their homes, they lose access to sanitation and drinkable water. For example, Tintane is a small city in southeastern Mauritania where a flash flood wiped out the water supply, sanitation and houses of two-thirds of its people. They are living in tents and makeshift shelters, none of which have latrines.

The floods destroyed the dam, the health center and nearly 2 miles of water pipes.

The Mauritanian government appealed for international aid to rebuild the town. Libya, Tunisia and Morocco have already promised emergency items, including tents, food, blankets and medicine.

So far, the European and U.S. imperialist countries that have sucked out Africa’s valuable resources ever since colonialism and the slave trade are being conspicuously tightfisted about giving aid.

Even when aid arrives, the Mauritanian government will still have major problems supplying the people of Tintane with water, education and health care. As one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154 out of 177 countries in the United Nations Human Development Report and with a per capita income of only $2,000 per year, Mauritania’s infrastructure even before the floods was sorely lacking.

Besides Mauritania, the countries of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad also had major problems with flooding. The water didn’t relieve their droughts since it came in torrents that couldn’t be absorbed by the soil. Lake Lere in Chad, which is on the Cameroon border, overflowed its banks Aug. 9. As of Aug. 15 people who lived in the area were still finding bodies and wading through the water looking for dry land. Chad ranks 171 out of 177 countries on the UNHDR.

Sudan is an African country often in the news lately because of the conflict in its province of Darfur and because it has become a significant producer of oil and sells a lot of it to China. It has used oil income to make major investments in infrastructure and agriculture. The floods that began there in early July and are predicted to last until mid-September have scarcely been mentioned in the Western media.

This year the rains came earlier than expected and 500,000 Sudanese lost access to clean water. Some 3,086 pounds of chlorine powder and 878,000 chlorine tablets have been handed out to reduce the risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases. The U.N. is warning that as many as 1 million Sudanese could lose their houses and possessions and require food aid as well as water.

The northern part of Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, is also in the Sahel and suffered from drought before this year’s flooding. Dr. Hassan Adewusi, head of the Department of Forestry and Wild Life, explained some of the causes of the flooding in an interview with the Daily Trust in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

Adewusi said, “Drought has to do with the climate, while desertification is aggravated by people’s activities, and if these two are combined, where you remove the vegetation cover of a place and expose the soil to a lot of environmental conditions, farming will become unsustainable and if farming is unsustainable, you can think of the consequence.”

Since fuel is very expensive in northern Nigeria, as well as in most other areas of the Sahel, farmers use wood to cook their food and heat their homes on cold nights. This removes the vegetation covering the soil.

A report at the U.N.’s annual World Day to Combat Desertification on June 17 asserted, “By 2025, Africa could lose as much as two-thirds of its arable land compared with 1990 ... due to climate changes produced by global warming.”