A series of messages of a friend (François Laureys) on the social messaging system of FaceBook community who keeps active contacts in West Africa alerted me to extra ordinary heavy rains and floodings in Burkino Fasso and other countries in the region. I had not seen any covering of this disaster on national Dutch television, and maybe missed it on BBC news, anyhow us Europeans are not “flooded” with African news anyhow. It can be that the editors in command of our daily supply of misery are careful about the possible ‘disaster fatigue’ of their audience, but when a local disaster occurs in the low countries we can be sure that the flooded camping outside the village of Hoeksewaard – however minor – will get full attention. A recent example was the so called ’Weeralarm’ (weather alarm) of our national meteorological institute KNMI because a combined storm and heavy rains were expected on August 20, 2009. Luckily the “planned” storm did not come and the heavy rains failed to materialize, so many complaints did get in form organizers of the compulsive and commercial late summer outdoor festivals, that were either cancelled or delayed. Before, such nation wide offical alarms, everybody accepted the vicissitude of the weather, but now the eager business minds must have started to think up possible damage claim schemes. The national weather institute KNMI was quick to react and has scaled down their ‘televisionized’ national alarms. Anybody with a computer in this country – my good guess is that there are even more computers than inhabitants in the Netherlands – has instant access to the continuous weather radar and its efficient didactic visualizations so a greengrocer with an outside market stall can check the radar on his iphone and take the needed measures right in time. Those are the disasters of luxury that befall us here in Europe.
The Facebook messages from François about Burkino Fasso where illustrated with local television coverage that has been posted in a copy on Youtube, this is just one example … there are many more videos that show the disaster. A whole series can be found on Youtube as posted by ‘toussiana’ and also François has posted a series of still pictures on the French web site L’Atellier de média.
The images of the inundated town of Ouaga kept appearing in my mind as there was what we Dutch call “heavy rainfall” this morning (I lived for a while in the real tropics so I know that real prolonged heavy rains do not occur in the Netherlands). At breakfeast my girlfriend mentioned the possible impact of “El Niño” and when I checked this issue, I bumped into this news item in the Guardian, stating:
Climate scientists have warned of wild weather in the year ahead as the start of the global “El Niño” climate phenomenon exacerbates the impacts of global warming. As well as droughts, floods and other extreme events, the next few years are also likely to be the hottest on record, scientists say.
Other images popped up during my internet search, mostly in British sources (so they do care a bit, may it be as part of their colonial legacy). And as said, in the article of the climate scientists, not just flooding, but also drought appeared to be an issue for the African continent, almost at the same latitude and time. Both West and East Africa are effected by the same major climate phenomenon. Emblematic pictures, very recently published came on my screen and merged in my mind. Next step was my routine check of ReliefWeb (serving the information needs of the human relief community) an initiative of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA, exists since f1996). Within seconds I found the maps that document both recent African disasters: flood and drought. So what was combined in my mind I have merged in one tableau picture…
As long as the clickable version (I intend to make) is not ready these are the four sources:
- West Africa floods picture from a BBC web site: “Many homeless in Burkina deluge”
- Idem a map from ReliefWeb in PDF format: “West Africa – Floods location (as of 01 Sep 2009)”
- East Africa drought picture from an article in The Guardian by John Vidal: ”Climate change is here, it is a reality’ As one devastating drought follows another, the future is bleak for millions in east Africa.”
- Idem a map from ReliefWeb: “Drought early warning stages in Kenya, July 2009″ (in PNG picture format)
I keep wondering whether the satellite instant weather maps can be seen at least by some people in the effected African regions (though I read that most of the infrastructure of urban areas in Burkino Fasso have been flooded as well). Have there been official warnings and alarms? Could some of the effects of these natural disasters have been lessened if ther would have been some sort of efficient communication of information? Do I see things biased, as too primitive over there? In these parts of Africa the ownership, or even just access to a computer, seems to be limited and bandwidth and processing speed of the computers used may be insufficient to display such heavy data streams. National or regional weather institutes do they have these public accessible climate information systems? Many question I have to find an answer for. NASA Earht Observatory certainly has all the information and I could find quickly some recent visualizations of the flooding of Burkino Fasso and neighbouring Sahel countries. I will post them just here, and as the sun breaks through in Amsterdam and it is saturday afternoon, it is high time to go and buy that fish for dinner… and I can do very little with my compassion with the victims of these natural disasters. Maybe it is good to try to stir Dutch media to give some coverage to this… but for the rest nothing more to do as a far away urban European for the moment.
The source page for the NASA picture of the Burkino Fasso floods can be found here….