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Floods in Sudan: intervention beyond community-based initiatives is needed

Charitable initiatives, like Sadaggat and Shariee Alhawadith, have been providing food and clothes as well as medical care for years. They offer much-needed assistance and an ‘alternative’ to the official social welfare system which does not exist.

The night of Wednesday July 31, 2013 in Alfath, a town northwest of the city of Omdurman, two children aged four and two died instantaneously after the roof of their house fell in; leaving their three brothers injured. When it rains in Alfath, parents have always put their children’s beds in the yard or even on the streets and covered them with plastic blankets in an attempt to keep them as far from falling walls as possible. A father of three children said "We cannot risk our children’s lives; it's better to keep them cold and wet rather than buried under debris." Another 3 kids were reportedly killed by electric shock on the evening of August 9 in the Gabra neighborhood of Khartoum.

Since the evening of August 1, 2013, Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, has witnessed heavy rainfall and harsh floods. The rainfall came up to 32-56 mml, making it higher than it has been in years and the damage even worse. The yearly rainy season, usually from the end of June into the beginning of September, always leaves many people injured or dead, due to the collapse of houses and roads.

But these devastating effects of rainfall and floods do not seem to have much impact on the Sudanese government. Three days after the disaster, President Omar Elbashir flew to Tehran to congratulate the newly elected Iranian president without making any official statement with regards to the floods. The Khartoum state governor, in a TV interview, denied that this was a  “disaster” calling the situation a "crisis" instead, on the grounds that it was only a disaster if half the total population was affected. Abdulgadir Hemmat, head of the Khartoum Roads and Bridges Authority, meanwhile, admitted that the sacloe of the destruction was due to houses poorly built out of weak and cheap materials. He also made a point of saying that the houses built out of cement blocks were not affected and by doing so made the residents of Khartoum responsible for the damage they had incurred.

The Sudan Metrological Authority website has apparently not been updated since 2012. They presented last year’s forecast as this year’s, failing to predict heavy rainfall. On the other hand, the website of the Ministry of Civil Defense was quick to report how a fire at the US Embassy in Khartoum was handled last January 2013.

As of August 9, the death toll came to 53 persons and the estimate of those affected by the floods exceeds 72,585 persons in Sharq Elnil, Kararri, Umbadda and northern Khartoum. According to UN dispatch, the Sudanese government has put restrictions on the humanitarian assistance NGOs can provide in flood-affected areas. As a result of these restrictions as well as the government’s reluctance in providing assistance and managing the floods, a wave of popular unrest has emerged in Alfath, Umbadda and Sharq Alnil as well as on social media sites. The protestors have demanded aid from the government, but the government has responded violently by trying to disperse the protests with tear gas. 

Nafeer, a community-based youth-led initiative, was formed on Facebook on Friday, August 2, 2013. They started operating from Gisr Centre’s headquarters, another youth led non-profit organization, by assessing and responding to people’s needs in the affected areas. They have been collecting donations, providing tents, plastic sheets, food, clothes and medical assistance to all those affected. Almost 1200 volunteers registered and joined Nafeer in its first week of operations. On August 5-6 alone they received 264 calls on their emergency hotline. Local residents and the Sudanese diaspora have made cash donations exceeding 400 thousand Sudanese pounds (approx. 57 000 USD).

Community-based initiatives like Nafeer frequently emerge to bridge the gap between people’s needs and lack of government services. Charitable initiatives, like Sadaggat and Shariee Alhawadith, have been providing food and clothes as well as medical care for years. They offer much-needed assistance and an ‘alternative’ to the official social welfare system which does not exist.

However, Nafeer is different as they are offering ad hoc solutions for an emergency situation that needs mass government and national intervention. Although Nafeer aspires to offer assistance nationwide to all those affected by the floods, their work is inevitably limited to the State of Khartoum as it is difficult to access all the other areas. In North Darfur 2000 houses were destroyed by rainfall on August 1, 2013 and 500 houses in Dereig IDP camp in South Darfur was destroyed on July 17, 2013.

There hasn’t been any attempt at the reconstruction of homes or shelter let alone psychosocial support for the survivors; what is needed extends far beyond the immediate assistance provided.  "It has been a horrible, unforgettable experience. My family has lost everything, thanks to Allah we are alive. Now, in just one week, I cannot imagine going back to university. We've lost everything; I'm afraid the roads to downtown Khartoum no longer function. Anyway I can't see myself ever resuming my normal life" said a flood survivor from Sharq Elnil on the eve of Alfitr day.

About the author

Yosra is a Sudanese blogger & activist. As an advocate for the rights of women, refugees & displaced communities, Yosra has been selected as a correspondent for Voices of Our Future 2013 by World Pulse. She blogs in English/Arabic here & tweets @sudanesedream


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