The story begins this past July. It is nearing the end of the rainy season, which the people of Kassala anticipate with care and fear of what they call "the Mad River Gash."
The River Gash cuts through Plan's Kassala program area. Much of its waters come from the highlands of neighboring Eritrea, where reservoirs holding huge amounts of water overflow after heavy rainfall, releasing a wild torrent that roars down the mountains into the "Mad Gash" and through Kassala town.
On the 28th and 29th of July, heavy rains drenched Kassala, causing flooding and considerable damage to homes in the poorer parts of town, where drainage systems were insufficient or non-existent.
But the damage caused by the rains was localized. The Gash was in its proper place, held back by levees built by the Sudanese Government more than a decade ago.
So the next morning -- July 30 -- began as any other day, says Plan Sudan Project Officer Anas Saad Awadelkareem,
". . . with children shouting on their way to school, cars and busses blowing their horns. No one realized the level of threat. Abdelwahab, a driver with Plan who lives on the closest edge of the river, said almost prophetically 'the Mad Gash is threatening my house today.' Hours later the telephone rings and it is Abdelwahab's wife, shouting at him to come home right away. The river had broken the surrounding embankment and the water was now reaching the front door of their home. Moments later, an extraordinary sound could be heard; vehicles moving very fast, people running and women crying out for their children in the schools and kindergartens, and of course the rushing water. Mountains of water had suddenly burst both the west and the east banks of the River Gash."
What followed was massive devastation -- the worst flood disaster to strike the Sudan in human memory. Houses collapsed under the power of the floodwaters, electric and communication towers toppled. Tens of thousands of acres of agriculture were destroyed, all the livestock. In the poorest communities where Plan works, whole villages had disappeared, as if wiped off the face of the earth.
Perhaps most significantly, all roads leading in and out of Kassala were washed away. It was impossible to reach the flooded communities. U.N. agencies and international relief organizations were unable to reach the people in need. Even the Wali, the Governor, of Kassala found it impossible to reach the area by helicopter due to poor visibility.
And here is where your support of our work with children makes all the difference. We were already there, on the ground, and immediately at work!
How? Because Plan is a true grassroots organization. Plan staff live in the communities, they know the families. Plan's far more precise reports from our Kassala office became the main source of community-level information for the majority of international aid agencies.
In those initial weeks,
- we rushed to secure Kassala Hospital,
which serves 80% of the population, providing generators and emergency
equipment, needed medicines, and critical maintenance of water and drainage
- we distributed food and clean water
(because most wells were contaminated) to 11,564 families
- we distributed 13,000 mosquito nets (floodwaters did not recede until end of September!), chlorine tabs and temporary housing to thousands of homeless families.
Now for the work ahead -- to build it back: homes, schools, health clinics, roads. Only better, safer and stronger. Even what is still standing will have to be demolished and rebuilt again.