Canals to stave off flood risks in Yaounde

When it rains the effects of poor drainage and waste disposal is evident in every part of Yaounde. Rainwater overflows from the narrow gutters that are partially blocked by garbage, mainly plastic bottles, flooding the roads with dirt and disrupting traffic.

Recently, heavy rains in Yaounde caused flooding in parts of the city: the quarters of Nsam, Warda, Coron Ekounou, and Biyem-Assi. Inhabitants in affected areas have been trying to adapt to this urban problem while others have simply deserted their homes.

“My house is a two-story building but nobody can occupy the ground floor due to flooding,” said Emmanuel Onana, a homeowner in the low-lying part of Nsam quarter that records flooding on a weekly basis from June through October. “I have been forced to modify the plan of my building and I will completely bury the ground floor by filling the whole compound with earth until it’s raised enough above the flood levels.”

Most homeowners are adopting similar measures by raising their structures and building flood boundaries.

“I have submerged one meter of my walls into the ground above flood level and to do this, I have to completely remove the roof of my building to raise the walls,” said Onana.“This was as costly as building a new house and I don’t know for how long I am going to live in this one.”

Flooding disrupts the city’s socio-economic activities and has a devastating effect on the squatter areas that makes up 62.4 percent of the city. From 1980 to 2014, more than 131 floods have been registered leading to important material damages and more than 80 deaths.

Rains in Yaounde are estimated to have reached 2000 mm per year in recent years.

Despite the fact that the frequency of rainfall has fallen in Yaounde, the region is characterised by changing rainfall patterns and very heavy rainfall in some months, according to Amougou Joseph, a lecturer in Geography at the University of Yaounde.Climatic modifications and human impact play a key role  in  the  amplification  of  flooding,” he said.

A narrow bridge in Nsam quarter that floods during heavy rains and blocks traffic. Monde Nfor.

To deal with flooding, government built a 5km long drainage canal in 2012, with funding from the African Development Bank.  The canal lies along the Mfoundi River’s main bed, and has two towpaths, two access ways to enable people to cross the canal, a rail bridge, and a bridge for light vehicles.

The 5km canal is the first phase of the Yaounde city canalization project. The second phase, which will be built with funding from the French Development Agency (AFD), will comprise four drainage canals, totaling 9km in length, along the Mfoundi River’s tributaries, and a domestic waste disposal and treatment plant.

“The first phase of the project helped to scale down the number of floods from 15 to three annually. But much still remains to be done in order that peripheries which are still vulnerable to floods are completely freed from related risks,” Serge Mbarga Enama, an Engineer at Yaounde City Coucil, told urbanafrica.

“The drainage network is still inadequate and operating poorly, causing floods after heavy rainfall which can run [at] about 315km per hour,” said Enama.

Ironically, recent rains caused flooding in a part of central town which has already benefited from the new canals.

According to Enama, the problem with central town now lies with drainage outlets, which are blocked with garbage thrown by city dwellers into drainages.When it rains many roads in the city are flooded with water that leaves behind huge piles of garbage on the roads, making flooding much more costly for the city council to manage, he explained.

Yaounde’s drainage canal is being funded by the African Development Bank Group together with other partners — Global Environment Facility (GEF), French Development Agency (AFD) and the Cameroon government — to the tune of $102.448 million.

The second phase is expected to start with a larger part of the funding from AFD to the tune of $68.292 million.

The canalisation project is expected to benefit more than 1.8 million city dwellers, or about 75 percent of Yaounde’s population. It is also expected to reduce water related dangers by cutting the rate of malaria to 5 percent in 2017, and reduce the risk of cholera and typhoid to about 1 percent and 0.5 percent respectively by 2017.

Urban sprawl in Yaounde, which has increased since the beginning of 1980 due to an explosive growth of the population from 650,935 in 1987 to about 2 million people in 2014, also contributes to flood risks.

The Yaounde City Council has already displaced more than 4,000 people squatting on sections of land marked as flooding risk zones and rehabilitated some of these areas by digging gutters and raising low lying areas.

“Most African cities today are faced with this problem of trying to ensure the sustainability of their cities,”said Stefano Milia of the National school of Public Works in Cameroon. “But [in] doing so, they have to make very difficult choices, one of which is displacing a population that has adapted to urban disorder for very long now and the enormous cost involved.”

Main image: A new canal in Yaounde city centre. Monde Nfor.

Monde Kingsley Nfor is journalist and international development consultant in Cameroon. He is also a correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) and the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Monde holds a master’s degree in International Relations and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. His email: nformonde@gmail.com.

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