200,000 displaced, scores killed by floods in Sudan

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26 July 2007
By Nawal Hassan Yousif and Anita Swarup in Khartoum

Nearly one hundred people have been killed in torrential rains since early July in Sudan. Over 300 people have been injured, around 46,000 family homes destroyed, leaving up to 200 thousand people displaced. The river Nile and several seasonal rivers burst their banks flooding more than eight states. Flooding on this scale has not been seen for twenty years but, with the heavy rain predicted to continue, the fear is that the worst is still to come.

Nothing has escaped the fast moving waters. Farms and livestock as well as roads, latrines, hospitals and schools have been damaged or swept away. Whole communities have been left destitute.

Ibrahim Adam Yusuf, a resident in Jedel awlia region, around 45 km east of the capital, Khartoum, says: “We were all worried as it rained constantly for five hours and we were waist high in water. My house then collapsed.”

Luckily they managed to get out before the house disappeared into the flood waters but all their belongings were lost - clothes, kitchen pots and pans, schools books and the like. He now lives with his family of twelve in a makeshift shelter and tent and is not sure when he is going to get the resources to build another house.

Ibrahim’s daughter is now suffering from AWD (Acute Watery Diarrhoea), a cholera-like disease which spreads rapidly with floods. According to Dr. Adel Tadros, the International Federation’s Health Programme coordinator in Khartoum, “the floods will trigger epidemics of malaria and AWD and diarrhoea. The Red Crescent has to be prepared for that – or we could see severe outbreaks of epidemics and possibly significant loss of lives,” he adds. Chronic malnutrition is also on the rise.

Cows, goats and chickens also died, seriously affecting livelihoods of many farmers. Motasim Balla, a livestock farmer in Jedel awlia region, lost seven cows and all 40 of his chickens – several of the farmhouses also collapsed. He had a thriving business before but now he has been reduced to only being able to produce milk from the few remaining cows.

With more rain forecast in the coming weeks and months, meteorological organizations in the region are warning that as many as 2.4 million people across 16 states could be affected, with areas in the north and east expected to bear the brunt of the damage.

Sudan is one of the most vulnerable and disaster-prone countries in Africa, having been hit by both drought and floods in recent years. There have been six major floods between 1990 and 2001 affecting over 1.5 million people. The economic costs are immense - for example in 1999 accumulated losses due to the River Nile and flash floods amounted to over USD 450 million. The Sudanese Government has now declared a State of Emergency Alert in the affected regions.

At the Sudanese Red Crescent headquarters in Khartoum, a Floods Task Force – consisting of SRCS staff, Federation and PNS representatives - is hard at work mobilizing resources and coordinating the response. The SRCS’s updated Floods Contingency Plan and a detailed Plan of Action is being shared with partners, as well as the assessment reports as they come in. Assessment of the disaster response capacities are ongoing in several parts, including the White Nile and North Kordofan states.

Several assessment teams have returned from the field, others are still in the affected areas supporting local volunteers who are assisting the displaced with evacuation of affected families and relief distributions in Kassala, Gezira, Red Sea and Blue Nile States. Key management and technical personnel are involved with support from the International Federation. The SRCS Headquarter and the affect states’ branches are monitoring the situation closely and will provide updated information as the situation evolves.

With many hospitals and health clinics destroyed or inaccessible, the Sudanese Red Crescent has already installed five mobile health clinics but more will be needed. It is also working with the Ministry of Health and local hospitals in monitoring waterborne diseases.

Earlier this week, the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and its partner organization including the Sanad (whose chairperson is Sudan’s First Lady, Widad Babikir) and UNICEF were thanked in a ceremony for their assistance during the floods in northern Khartoum. In this part, 60 SRC volunteers are still assisting flood efforts to place sacks of sand to prevent water from flowing into houses.

The International Federation has already released some $200,000 USD from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the initial emergency relief efforts of the Sudanese Red Crescent. So far, Red Crescent volunteers have distributed some 1,200 tents, 2,000 plastic sheets and over 3,200 blankets, as well as chlorine tablets, plastic jugs, water pumps and soap in an effort to combat the inevitable impact that rising water will have on access to clean water and appropriate hygiene. Further materials are arriving from the sister societies in Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

Following the DREF allocation the International Federation, on behalf of the Sudanese Red Crescent, has issued an international emergency appeal for 1.65 million USD to support the SRCS’s operation. The appeal is likely to be revised upwards in the coming days – and in view of forecasts of ongoing heavy rain, the appeal will also support efforts to prepare communities that are expected to face floods in the coming months.