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September flooding in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was particularly destructive for mud brick homes, like the two pictured here. As the water rose, walls of the houses collapsed, and the families who lived there took refuge in a nearby school. Anne Garber Kompaore, used w/ permission

September flooding in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was particularly destructive for mud brick homes, like the two pictured here. As the water rose, walls of the houses collapsed, and the families who lived there took refuge in a nearby school. Anne Garber Kompaore, used w/ permission

Surprise flooding in Burkina Faso destroys homes of the poorest

Linda Espenshade
September 16, 2009

 

AKRON, Pa. – When Levy Madjibe visits victims of flooding in the capital of Burkina Faso, he hears the same story repeatedly – "I was surprised by the water, and I've lost everything."

The rainstorm that dropped 12 inches of water in 12 hours caused widespread flooding throughout the capital city of Ouagadougou on Sept. 1. Residents were shocked as water overflowed the city reservoir and spillways and swept away cars, bridges and homes.

Flooding forced the main hospital to shut down and to evacuate patients to other hospitals. The electrical plant, one water treatment station, a medical clinic, a prestigious hotel and many government buildings were damaged by the flooding.

Not since 1927 had there been such extensive rain and flooding, said Madjibe, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative for Burkina Faso and Chad.

Residents are used to the rainy season that typically delivers two hours of rain most days between June and October. However, this deluge took everyone by surprise. At least 150,000 people were affected by the flooding, according to the United Nations News Centre, and 50,000 are seeking refuge in schools, churches and other public buildings. Madjibe believes the number of people seeking public shelter is increasing as they leave homes of friends and relatives where they first sought refuge.

Especially hard-hit were the city's poorest, whose mud brick homes were no match for the torrents of water. Although their homes normally suffer damage during the rainy season, this time residents watched flood waters destroy or wash away their houses and their belongings, said Virginia Lepp, also an MCC representative for Burkina Faso and Chad.

"Entire neighborhoods of mud houses, especially on the edges of town, were completely wiped out," wrote Anne Garber Kompaore on her website. Kompaore is supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission network in Burkina Faso. She works as a Bible translation consultant for the Burkina Bible Society and for the Evangelical Mennonite Church.

"Those who live along overflowing canals had the fright of their lives as water rose to chin level," she wrote. "Bridges were ruined in our part of town impeding traffic to downtown. Used cars parked along the canal were tossed around like match box toys and piled in disordered array."

Many of the homeless people now living in Ouagadougou's temporary shelters were very poor to start with, Lepp said. They had to build their homes near spillways or in areas where there was no water-control infrastructure because they couldn't afford to build them in a safer area or use stronger materials.

"There's no such thing as insurance," she said. "Their family systems are already stretched to the hilt. If you had gone into their homes before the flood, you would have seen very minimal possessions."

Even the cost of a plastic bucket is too much for them now, Lepp said. "They are 100 percent reliant on outside donors, but they are survivors."

As a result, the Office for Development Projects (ODE), the relief and development arm of the Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Burkina Faso and a long-time MCC partner, has asked MCC for financial assistance. The Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso is a participating church in ODE.

MCC has pledged $20,000 and is accepting additional donations. ODE will use MCC’s contribution to supply food, mosquito netting, mats and soap and to rebuild homes. Other aid organizations, including the United Nations and the Red Cross, are responding to the immediate need, providing food and clean drinking water.

Although the flood waters receded the day after the flood, the needs of the displaced people will continue to grow, Madjibe said, especially because the cost of living is expected to increase next year. Gardens and crops were washed away, and Lepp noted that many people lost the supplies they needed for their livelihood.  Schools that are currently being used for shelter will open for students on Oct. 1, forcing relief agencies to create or find new shelter for those with no homes.

The MCC office took a hit, too, as it filled with about 1 foot of sewage-tainted water on the inside. On the day of the flooding, Levy used buckets to carry water from the office for three hours and then recruited people to help for the next two hours. About an inch of sludge and silt remained on the floor and still had to be cleaned. Books and papers on the lowest bookshelves had to be burned to avoid diseases.

MCC's eight national staff, five MCC service workers and the five children of MCC workers are safe, although the flooding destroyed several walls around staff members' houses. Government officials cleared the office for reopening on Monday, Sept. 14.

To contribute to relief efforts in Burkina Faso, log onto www.mcc.org or contact your local MCC office. Gifts should be designated for "Burkina Faso emergency assistance."