By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
Deadly floods in the cities of Douala and Yaounde recently have pushed the Cameroon government to support the city councils in a series of measures to avoid future losses from weather-linked disasters.
The government has called for better regulation of the housing construction code and given its accord for demolition of all illegally built houses in urban swamps of Douala and Yaounde, the two most populated cities in the country with over 6 million inhabitants.
Among other measures, the ministry of urban development will financially and technically support urban councils improve maintenance of the river banks and city drainage systems to reduce the vulnerability of residential areas to floods.
Given that a large portion of the population depends on water from wells which must have been polluted given the proximity with pit toilets while the standing water remains fertile ground for mosquitoes, health experts fear cholera epidemic and recurrent malaria attacks might be looming if proper precautions are not taken at all levels.
Health experts say the number of cholera cases in Douala alone increases to over 400 per week during the rainy periods.
The two city councils have to that effect drafted plans to boost water resources with the supply of huge water containers at affordable cost to encourage rain water harvesting by households and entire neighbourhoods.
Insurance companies are now also making big gains as government call for property owners to insure their property to avoid further financial losses from climate change disasters is increasingly heeded to.
Heavy rains last June triggered major flooding in the Douala V district area, submerging over 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of land killing four children and forcing thousands to flee for safety.
Though living in swampy areas in Cameroon is unlawful because of the high risk of flooding, the land is cheap, attracting many of the city’s urban poor. The two cities of Yaounde have recurrently suffered from devastating floods with the population paying a heavy cost.
“Inhabitants of squatter settlements such as the Douala V council area and other flood-prone areas of the economic and political capital live in constant fear of every drop of rain,” Didier Yimkoua, an environmentalist and secretary general of the National Salvation Front political party, told the press after the Douala floods.
Experts attribute the floods to the arbitrary occupation of land and the wanton destruction of the forest along the Wouri estuary causing the river to overflow its banks. Douala inhabitants especially those near the coast say they live in constant fear each time it rains.
“At the drop of the rains we think the rainwater running through the streets is the ocean about to overwhelm the city,” said 50-year-old Jean Nouadjeu one of the floods victim who lost his home and business.
For the past two weeks officials of the Douala V council area and the Yaounde city councils have proceeded with forcefully evicted and demolition of most of the housing – much of it built with wooden plants and other makeshift materials tearing down entire neighbourhoods leaving thousands homeless and helpless.
“We think the only way to put an end to such catastrophe in the future is to demolish and force people out of these risky and vulnerable zones,” said Fritz Ntone Ntone, the government delegate to the Douala city council.
The government says the days of administrative tolerance are over and laws against such illegal buildings must be enforced.
To reduce the vulnerability of cities to floods the city councils plans to carry out hydraulic and geological studies and then draw up a map of areas likely to be flooded after heavy rains.
Following last month’s floods, the government has released $185 million into Douala’s Urban Development Programme for the Emergency Rehabilitation and Constriction of Infrastructure fund.
Experts have warned that extreme rains leading to floods will occur more often in future due to climate change.