Flooding in Africa: Confronting climate change and urbanization challenges


Flooding in Africa: Confronting climate change and urbanization challenges

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted more than 1000 reported occurrences of flood-related disasters across Africa between 2018 and 2022, resulting in more than 20,000 fatalities. These somber figures may, however, merely be the beginning of the situation. According to predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by the end of the twenty-first century, flooding incidents may increase by 20% because of climate change’s growing effects. In addition, the WMO predicts that by the middle of the century, the economic costs of climate-related problems for African countries could reach a startling $50 billion yearly. 


This alarming issue is further exacerbated by the impending threats to Africa’s coastal cities, with projections indicating the possibility of submergence for over 12 major coastal urban areas by 2050. Such projections paint a grim picture – the Africa Center for Strategic Studies estimates potential financial losses ranging from $65 billion to $86.5 billion by 2050 due to flooding, which could displace more than 60 million inhabitants due to rapidly rising sea levels. Disturbingly, the existing flood defenses are anticipated to fall short in protecting these vulnerable cities from the encroaching sea. 


As a Lagosian, I worry about the existence and effectiveness of existing flood defenses when medium-intensity rain leads to flooded homes, cities, and loss of property and livelihoods. While climate change undeniably triggers alterations in precipitation patterns and sea levels, the damage inflicted by flooding is substantially magnified by the inadequacy of infrastructure and, in some cases, the absence of effective urban planning in many African cities.


A comparison with North America underscores the role of urban planning and infrastructure. In the US, inadequate infrastructure and subpar land use planning contributed significantly to the 2020 flood damage, highlighting the criticality of comprehensive strategies. The United States recorded a staggering $100 billion in flood-related losses and this number, although substantial, gains perspective when considering the US economy’s magnitude, which is 25 times larger than Africa’s. It is worth noting that floods in Africa often result in more severe consequences due to their potential to displace communities and obliterate livelihoods. 


In a previous article, we delved into the nexus between geopolitics, technology, and the prevalent urban planning deficits in many African cities. These gaps have heightened our vulnerability to even minor natural events, diminishing our resilience. You can find the article [here]. In this follow-up piece, we highlight case studies from developing nations that highlight how communities and cities have innovatively designed and invested in robust flood management systems. These measures have significantly bolstered their resilience, safeguarding inhabitants, and their livelihoods. 


Google Image of Kerala, India 


  1. Kerala, India – In 2018, Kerala grappled with catastrophic floods, due to 116% more than usual heavy rainfall and this led to the tragic loss of over 400 lives and the displacement of millions. Yet, the state managed a commendable recovery, owing much to its proficient flood management infrastructure. Comprising an intricate network of dams and reservoirs to mitigate flooding, and a highly skilled and coordinated disaster unit.


  1. As someone with a deep appreciation for historical lessons, I am compelled to shed light on the city of Agadir in Morocco. Though its tragedy was not related to flooding, the city’s history serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of resilience and forward-thinking urban planning. In 1960, Agadir was decimated by an earthquake registering 5.7 on the Richter scale, leading to the tragic loss of 12,000 to 15,000 lives. A staggering 85% of its buildings were obliterated, and two-thirds of its inhabitants perished. 


Google Image of the City of Agadir  


In the wake of this devastation, the city’s reconstruction embraced innovative seismic design principles to bolster its defenses against potential future earthquakes. The redesigned Agadir stands today as a testament to the city’s dedication to safeguarding itself from manifold catastrophes. 


Agadir serves as an exemplar of how cities can integrate advanced technology and resilience into their foundational architecture, prioritizing long-term protection and sustainability. On an intriguing note, in 2022, Agadir distinguished itself as the pioneer Moroccan city to launch a green bond. Priced initially at 1 billion dirhams (approximately €91.4 million), its issuance was buoyed by a substantial subscription from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) amounting to 400 million dirhams (around €36.5 million). This bond was a part of the “Green Cities” financing initiative. The funds are earmarked for the Urban Development Programme, supported by the Souss-Massa region, aiming to establish new eco-friendly infrastructure, thereby enhancing the living conditions for its approximately 422,000 residents. 


Several commendable examples exist, both at communal and national levels, highlighting effective flood management initiatives. Yet, it is crucial to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to flood management suitable for every African nation. Strategies should be tailored to address the unique challenges and circumstances inherent to each country.  Nonetheless, the examples mentioned earlier underscore the feasibility of instituting potent flood management techniques in Africa, even in settings constrained by resources. Ghana and Kenya stand out as nations actively devising flood management and adaptive strategies. 


In Nigeria, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has outlined a $10 billion climate adaptation and mitigation blueprint for Lagos State. One of its cornerstone objectives is safeguarding Lagos from the dual threats of flooding and erosion. While the full scope of its implementation is yet to be seen, certain decisions by the Lagos State government remain questionable. Specifically, the issuance of building permits in areas flagged as high-risk zones and the green-lighting of crucial infrastructure like hospitals and schools without requisite climate-resilient guidelines makes one question their genuine commitment to the well-being of the state and its residents. 


Graphic illustrating combined resistance and resilience measures (Dhonau & Rose, 2016).  


As Africa navigates the complex intersection of climate change, urbanization, and flooding, it is essential to recognize that effective solutions require collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to safeguarding both our communities and our planet. As we work with our governments and other stakeholders to invest in resilience and adaptation measures, we can also start on an individual level by ensuring our homes are resilient. When constructing or renovating homes, location, materials, and evacuation plans must be key considerations. You can refer to the image above and in addition.  


  • Choose a location that is not prone to flooding or other extreme weather events. If you are building a new home, choose a location that is on high ground and not in a floodplain. If you are remodeling or renovating your home, consider elevating it or installing flood vents. 


  • Use materials that are resistant to damage from extreme weather. Choose materials for your roof, siding, and windows that are made from durable materials that can withstand high winds and heavy rains. 


  • Have an evacuation plan. In the event of a major disaster, it is important to have a plan for evacuating your home. Make sure you know where you will go and how you will get there. 


By taking these steps, you can help to make your home more resilient to climate change and protect your family from the effects of extreme weather events. 


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