In the wake of Benin's flood crisis, support for the most vulnerable is essential

Constante's story

© UNICEF BENIN /2010/Asselin
Walking in the splintered remains of her house, Constante Dagninhoun sees flood damage in Zagnanado Commune, Benin.

By Edward Bally

ZAGNANADO COMMUNE, Benin, 29 October 2010 – Constante Dagninhoun, 33, married and the mother of five young children, is among the 680,000 people affected by the floods that have wreaked havoc in Benin.

Settled in a temporary camp installed in the Saint Laurent church – a three-hour drive from the country’s largest city, Cotonou – she is one of the lucky ones. Many of the 180,000 Beninese who’ve been displaced by the flood disaster are still living in the street.

These days, Ms. Dagninhou sells smoked fish in order to survive, but it doesn’t generate enough income to support her family. Desperate, she reaches out for support from the government and its humanitarian partners.

“I would like to ask donors to help the flood-affected women start, again, their income-generating activities,” says Ms. Dagninhoun. Faced with utter destitution, she feels this is the only way to feed her children and regain some semblance of a normal life.

A narrow escape

Like many other women in Benin, Ms. Dagninhoun lost her livelihood in the swirling floodwaters. Her hens and cocks are gone, and she points to a smashed cabin, explaining that the food, cereals and other products she used to sell are now under heaps of debris inside. Off in the distance, the maize and cassava field that she used to cultivate with her husband lies submerged in a watery grave.

© UNICEF BENIN /2010/Olivier Asselin
Constante Dagninhoun gazes at the ruins after floods destroyed her entire village in Zagnanado Commune, Benin, a three-hour drive from Cotonou.

In the tiny village directly adjacent to her makeshift camp, she stares at the splintered remains of what used to be her house and wonders how her family escaped death.

“One night, it was raining,” she recalls. “The water progressively invaded the courtyard. Suddenly, it got into the cabin. My husband and I attempted to get our belongings and our food stock out of the room. But the current was so strong that we ran away with the children and left everything behind.”

She stops in mid-sentence and remains silent for a while. Her haunted eyes reveal a weary combination of melancholy and abject fatigue.

Protecting the most vulnerable

“I currently live in the church backyard,” Ms. Dagninhoun continues slowly. “I sleep under a tent that I share with three other households. We live on top of one another, with all the risks related to such a situation.”

Gazing again at the scattered rubble, Ms. Dagninhoun points out: “In this village, we are used to floods. This happens every year. But it was never so impressive. It never had this scope.”

UNICEF and its partners are intensifying efforts to protect the most vulnerable in Benin’s flood zone – and to ensure that their needs are met with equity. Boosting income-generating activities could be, in this situation, of utmost importance for the survival of women and children, especially in flooded rural areas.

Hygiene promotion is also high on the agenda. In order to save as many lives as possible, UNICEF’s rapid response has provided more than 600,000 litres of safe-drinking water and 10,000 water containers in the most flood- affected communes and in the suburbs of Cotonou. In other locations, UNICEF and its partners continue to distribute plastic buckets, water-purification tablets, soap and insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.



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