The American Privilege to Survive: A Commentary on the Burkina Faso Floods

Natural disasters occur in every nation, but we often fail to acknowledge the destruction that happens outside of our own country. As an American, I’m hyperaware of when tornados, hurricanes, and tropical storms touch down, even if I’m not in the danger zone. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina bring us together as a nation to help our fellow citizens, as it resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 people. While the U.S. is considered a postindustrial nation, we struggle with crisis management, as indicated by the burden to alleviate the billions of dollars in damages Katrina brought. 

It seems as if the frequency of natural disasters has only increased since then, with storms wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast and the southeastern islands of the Atlantic. Extensive flooding has razed homes and businesses on the coastline that rely on tourism for economic stability. 2020 has the second most active cyclone season on record since 2005, with 26 cyclones forming. These storms have become more intense as well, as rainfall increased 20% over the past century. The areas that receive the most damage are often located along high risk flood zones or “floodplains,” and over a tenth of all Americans live within these zones. Taking into account every circumstance, it is quite evident why the U.S. incurs roughly $10 billion in flood damages every year. 

We can find solace, however, in the fact that most properties are insured. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works with state and local governments to mitigate financial and infrastructural risk before and after disasters occur. The average citizen has access to some type of media that warns them of an impending storm, which allows them to seek shelter in a timely manner. Relief organizations rescue victims from impounding flood waters, provide counseling and therapy, and offer financial aid to restore properties and funds. importantly, provide professional healthcare to those who have suffered injuries. However, there are several regions that lie along these “dangerous flood zones;” where many residents have little to no resources to fully evacuate or recover. 

The continental divide

Natural disasters do not discriminate, and we should not be overlooking how they affect other parts of the world, especially in the sub-Saharan region of Africa where turbulent weather threatens the lives of thousands in Burkina Faso. Known as the “rainy season”, intense flooding occurs from May until September. As with many African nations, Burkina Faso has a primarily agricultural economy, so the effects of natural disasters on their crops are devastating. During the rainy season, floods eradicate the Burkinabes’ main source of both food and profit. Unlike the centralized government and relief efforts we see in America, Burkina Faso lacks this economic advantage. 

The sub-Saharan region contains 27 of the world’s most impoverished nations. In Burkina Faso, 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. The welfare state is underdeveloped, and programs like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are virtually nonexistent. The American standard of living ensures access to education, which in turn leads to the growth of a professional career in an economy with multiple industries. In sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural goods are the primary exports, and women comprise the majority of the workforce. Given these two characteristics, families not only face physical displacement because of flooding, but they experience an exacerbated burden to place food on the table, if their homes even remain after disaster strikes. 

From this perspective, we truly begin to realize how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature. The death toll in Burkina Faso grows higher and higher as the rainy season progresses, with 13 people killed and 19 injured in September alone. Another West African country, Senegal, received roughly a year’s worth of rain in one day during this period. 

Looking towards the future

While the sub-Saharan region is vast, there are ways we can address problems that affect the entire area. I am calling for the following goals to be achieved with the hopes of a prosperous future for Burkina Faso and the rest of the sub-Saharan nations:

  • end hunger, poverty, and homelessness in the region
  • ensure that children receive proper nutrition
  • creation of a sustainable crop supply for people with no access to a grocery store
  • provide medical care in rural areas

It is imperative to ensure continuous support to these communities so that our efforts are not in vain. We want to be there for the next generation. Our mission is ambitious, but not impossible. The first step should be to capitalize upon the potential to prepare people of this region for the next inevitable natural disaster. We can start by rebuilding communities, supplying food and resources, and restoring crops to ensure their basic needs are met once floods strike again. 

Angel N. Skinner
Contributor at The Commoner | + posts

Angel N. Skinner has 12 years of teaching experience and has taught at different community colleges in the state of Mississippi. She also taught ESL for Chinese students and achieved a Certified TESOL. I have a strong interest in education, research, and English. My hobbies are reading, writing, and singing.

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