Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1307, (11- 17 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Sudan: Floods raise the spectre of famine

Widespread flooding in Sudan rings alarm bells ahead of the worst of the Upper Nile rainy season, some 80,000 already affected and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The situation is still worrying. All the consequences of the floods have not been identified, and heavy rains are still expected, along with rising Nile waters,” said the Sudanese interior minister, recognising the difficult conditions in his country as unprecedented floods caused widespread damage.

According to the UN Humanitarian Bulletin issued 31 July, some 80,000 people in several provinces have been affected by the floods.

The most affected provinces are Kassala in the east and Sennar in the southern Blue Nile province, where Nile River levels are at their highest point in more than a century, according to Reuters. Infrastructure in the two provinces, already weak, has been damaged. The town of Hameshkoreib, famed for its Islamic schools, has been cut off from the centre of the Kassala province for days. Dozens of families have fled for the neighbouring mountains, where they face a severe shortage of water and food.

The Sudanese Radio Dabanga, thought to be close to opposition circles, reported that the road linking Kassala with Port Sudan, the country’s main port, was cut off for several kilometres.

In the Gadarif province along the border with Ethiopia in the east, the town of Al-Hawata was cut off from neighbouring villages and towns for several days, during which residents faced a food shortage. Many children were also afflicted with diarrhoea and other illnesses associated with natural disasters.

In provinces in the east, local residents lost more than 1,800 heads of livestock and dozens of homes were destroyed.

The UN report said that some 28,000 people had been harmed by the floods in Kassala alone, which Interior Minister Esmat Abd Al-Rahman considered one of the hardest hit provinces in the country.

Quoting medical sources and local residents, Reuters reported that 3,206 homes were fully destroyed in Kassala while another 3,000 sustained partial damage. According to Mohamed Eissa Taha, the deputy governor of Kassala, there are 3,000 affected families in the province, as reported by various media outlets.

In Sennar, the UN Humanitarian Bulletin said that 1,160 homes were destroyed, another 1,320 were damaged, and 15,000 people were affected.

In North Darfur in the far west, 465 shelters in a displaced persons camp near the town of Al-Tawila were damaged, according to Radio Dabanga. The camp residents had fled fighting in the Marrah Mountains in the first months of this year. Camp residents told Radio Dabanga that the displaced persons headed for nearby schools. Darfur has been the site of a civil war since 2003 in which more than 300,000 people have been killed and millions internally displaced, according to UN estimates.

Against the backdrop of that bloody conflict, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who is accused of masterminding massacres in which war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated.

In West Kordofan, two people were killed and some 8,700 people were affected by the floods, while 541 houses collapsed and 692 more were partially damaged.

In a statement 31 July, the Sudanese interior minister said that 76 people had died around the country in the floods. Minister Abd Al-Rahman added that 13 of Sudan’s 18 provinces had been affected by the floods to varying degrees and that thousands of homes had been wholly or partially destroyed, especially in Kassala in the east, North Darfur, and the centrally located Al-Jazirah.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned that the waters of the Nile and its tributaries were extremely high for this early in the rainy season, which promises more floods with the expected rainfall upstream in Ethiopia and Eritrea in coming weeks.

Heavy rains are expected to continue in western Ethiopia, eastern Sudan, and northwest Eritrea until mid-August at the very least, according to the network. Rains reached levels of 500-750 mm in July, high compared to similar periods in previous years.

In a report issued just days ago, the network said that La Niña is expected to develop between July and September of this year, bringing heavier than usual rains in much of Sudan. This could have a positive impact on agricultural crops, but it will also generate floods in the least prepared areas.

The Sudanese capital also suffered from the floods, with transportation cut or weakened between city neighbourhoods, especially working class areas.

“For two days I haven’t been able to leave the house and go to work in Khartoum because of the rain,” said Idris Ahmed, a resident of the working class Al-Hajj Youssef neighbourhood in the northern part of the capital. “One of the neighbours died when a lamppost fell over [under the weight of a] electrical transformer. I’m scared for myself and forbid the kids from going out.”

All the flood damage has not yet been assessed, which is common in Sudan despite repeated floods. In 2013, large floods struck the country, claiming more than 35 lives, according to official estimates, as well as damaging thousands of homes in the most hard-hit provinces in the north. Some 150,000 people in eight provinces were affected by the 2013 floods.

There are no official casualty figures for the famed 1988 floods, which drove 1.5 million people from their homes. At the time, Prime Minister-elect Al-Sadeq Al-Mahdi declared the country a disaster zone, appealing to the world to save it. A year later, the National Salvation Revolution staged a coup led by then-General Omar Al-Bashir, as the regime and its media mocked the inability of democracy and the Mahdi government to save the country and flood victims.

But it seems nothing has changed. After 27 years of President Al-Bashir’s rule, the government is still unable to provide assistance to affected persons. Quoting residents in the east and west of the country, Radio Dabanga reported that the central government and local governments offered no real assistance to flood victims.

The Khartoum government has been involved in repeated conflicts with Western aid organisations working in Darfur, southern Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, the latter two having seen escalations in the civil war. The local populace fears the situation will worsen to the point of famine and the spread of disease, phenomena typically associated with natural disasters that governments are unable to mitigate.

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