Burundi: Heavy rains displace returnees, IDPs

BUJUMBURA, 29 April 2009 (IRIN) - Weeks of torrential rains in and around Bujumbura have worsened living conditions for thousands of residents of an informal settlement on the outskirts of the capital, most of whom have been displaced for years.

The rains have swept away most of the mud houses at the water-logged Sabe site and most residents now spend nights in the cold at a nearby fuel station.

A few have attempted to reconstruct their homes but the flooded ground means they cannot dig deep enough to put up the structures.

"I am trying to rebuild my home, which was completely destroyed by the rain-water, but it is no use," Alexis Nsabimana told IRIN on 27 April. "Whenever I dig, I find water after just a few centimetres; it is not possible to build a house here. If it rains again, it will be the end of my efforts."

Like Nsabimana, thousands of the residents of Sabe, mostly returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), have been displaced again, this time by the heavy rains. Those whose homes were swept away lost everything.

A nauseating smell pervades the site, emanating from the pools of stagnant water everywhere. The road to the site is still flooded.

The lack of toilets - before the rains there were only two pit latrines for 3,000 residents - has aggravated the situation, with rubbish and faeces floating in the stagnant water.

Some residents have complained of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and roundworms.

"Our children are now throwing up worms and others have malaria," Nsabimana said.

No place to rest

Since the onset of the rains, the Sabe residents spend their days along the airport road. Those who go to the site say they fear spending the nights there in case of more rainfall as well as the presence of snakes.

Fredianne Batururimi, a mother of three, said: "We fear for our children, they are at risk from the cold weather. I gave birth to my daughter on 18 April; I had nothing for her, no clothes; I cannot even find a place to rest and I am still tired from the delivery."


Although some agencies have come to the aid of the Sabe residents, most say the help is inadequate; they urgently need roofing materials for the structures that are still standing and for reconstruction.

The Ministry of National Solidarity distributed food and non-food items to the Sabe residents. Nsabimana said each family received three blankets, 15kg of beans and 15kg of maize flour.

The Evangelist Church in Buyenzi suburb, east of Bujumbura, has been providing drinking water.

"The pastor sometimes brings porridge for children in the morning," Nsabimana said, adding that the residents were, however, still washing utensils and bathing in dirty water.

On 24 April, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) distributed food relief to last the residents 10 days: each person received 22kg of maize flour, 2.5kg of beans, 1.25kg of oil and 250g of salt.

Ricky Nelly Ndagano, a programme officer in charge of communication at WFP, said the agency would evaluate residents' needs.

"After this first relief, we are planning to assess the needs in food and non-food items and what further assistance the organisation can bring to the Sabe destitute," she said.

The Sabe residents have indicated they would like to be moved to a hospitable site.

"When the Minister [of National Solidarity] came to visit us, she said those who have some place to go to will be built a house, those who have nowhere to go will be transferred to peace villages; but we do not know when and if the rains continue we will die here," Nsabimana said.

The spokeswoman in the Ministry of National Solidarity, Donatienne Girukwishika, said the ministry was planning to move the Sabe residents "soon" to a safer site. However, she did not give a date.

According to the administrator of Ngagara Commune, which hosts Sabe, a new site has been identified in Kanyosha urban commune, south of Bujumbura.

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