Burundi flood victims need more help

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Some flood victims are yet to reconstruct their homes © Desire Nimubona/IRIN

BUJUMBURA, 6 August 2014 (IRIN) - Thousands of people displaced by floods and a mudslide in the Burundian capital Bujumbura and surrounding areas in February 2014 need more help to reconstruct their homes and livelihoods, aid workers say.

“These people who haven’t been resettled and even those who have gone back to their homes are in need of proper shelter, food and blankets,” Methode Niyungeko, coordinator of the Platform for the Prevention of Risks, a local NGO, told IRIN.

“The government is working with partners to identify those who need help with reconstruction and is mobilizing resources towards that. We realize and appreciate many of those who were affected were orphans and widows who cannot reconstruct their homes on their own,” Divine Claudine from the deputy vice president’s office, told IRIN.

The government says it needs 166,236 iron sheets to help reconstruct houses for 7,556 vulnerable households.

“There were those who were living in rented houses before the floods [and who lost their own homes]... They are now living with relatives and these host families are facing a lot of hardships in catering for them. We know of about 800 such families,” Deogratias Niyonzima, a representative of the Christian Community Development of Burundi (CCDB), told IRIN.

He added: “Aside from food and the need to get their own shelters, these people are in need of school materials for their children and a little capital to start businesses to provide for their families.”

Heavy rain triggered mudslides and 3,800 homes were either swept away or partially destroyed, leaving 180 people injured and up 70 dead. The floods affected Kinama, Kamenge, Buterere, Ngagara, and Kanyosha and the rural communes of of Mutimbuzi and Isale. Up to 20,000 people were displaced.

“You can’t plan your life”

Victoire Kabemba, together with his wife and three children, still lives with his brother in a tiny mud house in the outskirts of Bujumbura.

“You can’t plan your life when you are living with another family. I used to run a food kiosk but it was destroyed. Now I have depleted my savings trying to help my brother provide for the two families,” he said.

Schools, health centres and local markets were also destroyed. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, up to 940 homes were completely destroyed.

Among those most affected were some 700 residents of Gatumba, 15km west of Bujumbura. Gatumba is home to many people who were displaced as a result of Burundi’s civil war (1993-2005) and continues to receive refugees returning from the nearby border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many residents are extremely poor.

In rural communes such as Mutimbuzi and Isale, families lost their crops and did not get any harvests. “Their crops were destroyed during the floods and they are now very food insecure and many of them lost the little property that they had,” said local NGO coordinator Niyungeko.

“We couldn’t harvest anything because the floods destroyed our gardens and crops and now we buy food. We don’t even have enough money to do it,” said Marceline, a resident of the area.

Monique Kayoya, 34, a widowed mother of five, was among those whose homes were destroyed. She now walks 15km from Bujumbura’s poor neighbourhood of Kamenge to hawk bananas in the city centre.

“Now life is a struggle to provide food for my children. I lost my husband two years ago. Even the things I used to sell are all gone. I’m left with nothing. I was just beginning to recover after I lost my belongings when the Bujumbura market burnt down a year ago,” Kayoya, told IRIN.

As in many of Bujumbura’s deprived neighbourhoods, houses in Kamenge are mostly made of mud bricks which cannot resist torrents of water and mud.

CCDB’s Niyonzima warned that the situation could get worse in a country where more than one third of the population faces food insecurity and more than 70 percent of the population is poor, according to the World Bank.

“More than any other time, these people need to be cushioned from the shock of losing everything they had. When people rely solely on agriculture like these people, natural hazards like floods can really destabilize their lives,” Niyonzima said.

Permanent shelters being built

Vénérand Nzigamasabo, head of the disaster management department within the Burundian Red Cross, told IRIN efforts are under way to construct permanent shelters for the affected.

“While most of the temporary sites have since been vacated, the construction of permanent shelters is ongoing,” he said.

A government official told IRIN the government was working with aid organizations to continue to provide help to the displaced.

“We [the government] are working with them [aid organizations] to ensure people who need our help get it,” he said.

In May, the African Development Bank donated US$1 million to the Burundian government to help flood victims.

Tabou Abdallah Manirakiza, Burundian minister of finance and economic development planning, announced at the time that the government would use the money to reconstruct schools, sanitation facilities, irrigation and agricultural infrastructure and also to restore health centres in the flood-stricken areas of Kinama, Kamenge and Buterere, and buy school equipment, including benches, chairs and desks.

Some aid groups like Caritas say they plan to provide small loans, a banking system for the poor or revolving loans, an education fund for children, rebuild at least 100 small houses, and contribute towards natural disaster risk reduction.