Africa at risk from natural disasters, report says | Africa | DW | 05.09.2013

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Africa at risk from natural disasters, report says

Inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa are threatened by natural disasters. This has led to consequences like poverty and disease, according to the World Risk Report 2013.

In Senegal, the rainy season is coming to an end. In the streets of the capital, Dakar, the water is still knee-high and is trickling its way into people's houses.

Parents are now afraid that their children are bound to suffer from diseases like diarrhea, malaria or cholera. Many cannot afford medication or services of a doctor.

A man grieves for his daughter who's just died of hunger

Prolonged droughts lead to hunger

The disaster risk is relatively high, although there are no hurricanes or earthquakes in Senegal. The country has simply no money to protect its residents from the effects of heavy rainfall. It lacks sewers and a good health system.

A natural phenomenon can be disastrous when people get hurt, die or have their livelihoods destroyed. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or droughts are natural phenomena. Whether they become a disaster or not depends on how well prepared a country is for such an event.

That is the key message of the World Risk Report 2013, which was presented on Wednesday (04.09.2013) in Bonn.

It sounds simple but it's a matter of life and death, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The authors of the report every year consider what disasters the residents of 173 countries worldwide countries are facing.

African governments fail to protect their residents

Senegal ranks 30th on the list of the most vulnerable countries worldwide. Other countries worst hit by catastrophes in the West African region are Guinea –Bissau, Gambia, Niger and Benin. These are right behind the earthquake and hurricane regions of Asia and Latin America.

A drainage system

Good drainage systems could help with floods

But there are some African success stories. “Ethiopia has improved from the class of high risk to the medium-risk category," says Torsten Welle of the United Nations in Bonn.

"Ethiopia has a higher literacy rate, with many people able to read and write." That means that more people are able to inform themselves about how best to avoid disasters."

In addition to that medical care has improved because the number of hospital beds has increased.

"The extent to which a disaster affects people depends largely on the health of the population and also how well medical care functions in crisis and disaster situations," said Peter Mucke, director of "Alliance Development Works", a German NGO coalition that released the report.

"In the event of an extreme natural disaster, those who know what to do have a better chance of survival," Mucke said.

As an example, he cited the management of diseases such as cholera: "In regions where infrastructure and hygiene are a problem, you have to expect there will be an outbreak of cholera in a disaster. You can prepare for that."

Prevention cheaper than disaster relief

The authors of the report say that it is important to install proper functioning sewage systems to reduce the risk of epidemics after disasters.

Prevention is not expensive: Mucke calculates that a toilet in a Kenyan school costs between 475 and 950 euros ($626 – $1,252). A well that serves 80 families in Ethiopia is available for 1,900 euros. Supplying a family of six with water from the well would cost 24 euros a year.

But rather than take preventive measures, those responsible often only intervene once it's too late, Mucke said.

Residents in west Africa carry their bicycles after floods

Floods in West Africa have affected sewage systems and transport

Namibia can protect itself from possible disasters, primarily because it has a relatively good health care system, and the government's good leadership style is on record, says Mucke.

Namibia is ranked 104 of 173 countries. It is in the same risk group with European countries like Hungary or Italy.

In one case, the authors came to a surprising conclusion: Japan, one of the richest countries in the world is in the15th place - before all African states.

It is there because the country failed to cope with the consequences of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the report says.

Calls for global solidarity

Thomas Gebauer, President of director of Alliance Development Works

Thomas Gebauer, urges for solidarity laws

To reduce the risk of disaster for people in African countries south of the Sahara, the president of the Alliance, Thomas Gebauer, suggests international solidarity laws.

Rich countries would have to transfer funds to poor countries so that they can improve their health systems.

"When I called for the idea, people called me a dreamer," said Gebauer.

"But we should always be clear that initially each individual country has the duty to take care of its residents.” For him Nigeria is a case in point. The country is an important oil producer - but invests little in its health system.

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