For a comprehension registry of flooding worldwide, go to   Dartmouth Flood Observatory 

See a summary of the Peterson Institute's report on the impact of Global Warming on Agriculture

For interactive comparative maps of the world, go to
























Read British environmentalist George Monbiot, in the Guardian, Nov. 6, 2007, The western appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world

For Monbiot's sources, visit his site,

Climate Change and Underdevelopment

    One of the predications for Global Climate Change is for the growing severity of weather cycles—longer and more thorough droughts, bigger and more intense storms—and that the force of these changes will concentrate towards the equator. This year’s flooding seems to bare this out. The Dartmouth Flood Observatory's Global Register of Major Flood Events listed over 200 floods by the end of October 2007. There were unusual “hundred-year” floods in eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and 65 deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars’ damage from flooding in the American Midwest this summer. But the preponderance of flooding has been tropical, with widespread floods in India, Southeast Asia, China, and Southern Africa. With fewer government relief programs and insurance adjustors, property losses in these places are difficult to quantify. In Africa, it is almost impossible to assess such losses, although a monetary figure would probably be comparatively low, given that the people there have materially so much less to lose. Their destitution is now complete.

    It is difficult to find a measure that accurately represents the poverty of nations. Obviously, calculating per capita income (by which a nation’s Gross Domestic Product is imagined distributed equally throughout its population) is a crude standard at best—it takes only a few very wealthy individuals to distort a number upwards. There are a variety of econometric methods used to measure inequitable distribution of wealth (the Gini coefficient, for example), but comparisons between nations is complicated by the impossibility of defining a globally applicable poverty line: what is seen as poor in one country may appear as relative comfort in another.

    The Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to distinquish whether a country is a developed, a developing, or an under-developed country, and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life. Of the bottom 30 nations on the index, all but two (Yemen and Haiti) are African, including 13 of the African nations affected by the floods. Two of them, Liberia and Niger, are at the very bottom of the list. (see map)

    For most Americans, a simple listing of the percentage of a given nation’s population living on less than $1 or $2 a day is revelatory. In every one of the African countries affected by flooding, at least 50% of the population lives on less than $2 dollars a day. In Niger and Mali, the figure is 86% and 90% respectively. In Nigeria, with a population approaching 150 million, it is 92%. (see list)

    By any measure, the countries of the Sahel are among the poorest countries in the world.

    Far from being a singular catastrophe for the affected populations, the floods compound the misery of already difficult lives, in many cases coming on top of ongoing crises:

  • In northern Niger, the flooding has displaced landmines laid by anti-government Touareg rebels, adding to the dangers already in place for both refugees and relief agencies. (read IRIN news story)
  • In both Chad and Sudan (including Darfur) where inter-ethnic fighting has created large numbers of "internally displaced" and cross-border refugees, flooding has seriously affected refugee camps, exacerbating already squalid conditions, rendering delivery and distribution of relief supplies more difficult, and in some cases washing away shelters. Nighttime temperatures in the Sahal can drop to 10 ºC (50 ºF).
  • In crowded refugee camps, flooding quickly amplifies the contagion of epidemic disease. Latrines overflow, wells are contaminated, and dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis spread. Malarial mosquitoes thrive in stagnant water. Such conditions are rife among settled populations as well.
  • Parts of Kenya, Somalia and Uganda experienced flooding for the second time in a year, after massive flooding beginning December, floods that also inundated other East and Southern African countries—Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia, Angola, Burundi, and Malawi—as well. More than two million people were affected over a period of five months.
  • In September, Encho Gospodinov, acting director of the policy and communications division at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, stated: "Red Cross Red Crescent disasters statistics show a worrying rise in the number of flood emergencies dealt with by volunteers across the African continent. […] Between 2004 and 2006, the number of floods operations in Africa jumped from just five to 32 and already, by mid September 2007, stood at 42." (read Reuters report)

    But for most, the ongoing crisis is less spectacular: the permanent struggle to provide for their families in an increasingly erratic environment, with no access to the economic mechanisms that stabilize their counterparts in more prosperous parts of the world. “The poorest are always the hardest hit because they are already on the edge,” said N’Tyo Traore, a government official in Niger. “Even a small disaster has a big impact on them.”

  • Throughout the Sahel, as the margins of the Sahara Desert have crept southward, populations have begun to settle and build on flood plains previously avoided, but now thought after years of drought to be permanently dry; when the floods came, fragile houses quickly crumbled.
  • Not only were thousands of acres of crops destroyed, but remaining seed stocks were washed away as well, erasing any hope of replanting. What seed is left is used for food.
  • In many cases, replanting would have failed anyway: in some places there has been no rain since the floods receded. Along with the loss of seed stock, this condition will ensure that flood victims will be dependent on outside help at least until next year’s harvest, over a year from now.

    The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that over 95% of Africa’s agriculture depends on rainfall. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which will share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore) issued a report in September projecting that food security in Africa will be "severely compromised" by climate change, with production expected to halve by 2020.

      Closing in on 500 million people, the total population of the eighteen African nations most recently affected by flooding is 158% that of the United States, at a little over 300 million.  Yet altogether they use just 3% of the oil the US does.  Per person, each of the Africans in those countries uses 1/50th of the oil each American uses (figures derived from the CIA World Factbook).  Wealthy nations balk at shouldering the responsibility to confront the consequences of their disproportionate and unbridled consumption of fossil fuels, pleading the inordinate expense, when the poor of the world will suffer disproportionately the most cruel climatic penalties that result.  In our increasingly transparent efforts to avoid confronting our addictions to ameliorate the severity of the crisis, we put our faith in quick fix panaceas such as biofuels, unaware that even here our self-interest impacts the very lives of others.  The world over, agricultural authorities are promoting, even mandating, the cultivation of crops not for the sustenance of their people, but for the production of alternate fuels for export, leaving the poor to go hungry. 

What Is To Be Done?


Affected Nations: Country-by-country statistics