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Devastating floods follow fires in Burkina Faso
September 11, 2009
Ouagadougou — On Sept. 1, a flood disaster of epic proportions devastated the capital region of Burkina Faso.
The devastation follows a destructive fire that swept through three villages in rural Burkina Faso on May 21– villages that are home to members of the fledgling Mennonite Church here.
In a Sept. 2 letter of request for prayer, Siaka Traore, President of the Burkina Faso Mennonite Church, said official reports recorded five deaths. The government is preparing an appeal for international assistance, he said, and more rain was in the forecast.
Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers Anne Garber Kompaore and Jeff Warkentin both reported to MC Canada offices about the unusually heavy rains that turned streets into canals.
Ouagadougou residents are accustomed to brief flash floods and mud during the rainy season, but were unprepared for a storm that dumped nearly 300 mm (12 inches) of rain – about half the normal rainfall for the entire rainy season – on the city and surrounding region in a matter of hours.
Those with cement block houses faired reasonably well – but mud brick is the only affordable option for many. The heavy rain essentially dissolved entire neighbourhoods of homes, reported Kompaore in an email.
“Cars parked along the canal were tossed around like match box toys and piled in disordered array,” she wrote. Kompaore herself said that the force of the water punched holes in an outer cement block wall surrounding her family compound, and numerous outbuildings on her property were temporarily flooded. Warkentin said that, oddly, his neighbourhood sustained no damage.
Kompaore’s husband Daniel runs a school for children unable to attend public school. Many families sought temporary refuge in his school, adding to the nearly 200 official refuge centres established throughout the city.
City and national authorities are overwhelmed trying to take care of their own damage and help the homeless at the same time. An estimated 150,000 people are homeless, wrote Traore. Ouagadougou’s population is about 1.5 million. The entire population has been called upon to donate clothing, bedding, food, and money. About $400,000 CDN was raised locally in the space of 24 hours, Kompaore said.
“There is no way one can re-build a mud house in the middle of the rainy season,” she said. The rainy season normally lasts about from June to October.
The city’s developing drainage infrastructure was not able to handle the sustained downpour. Twelve bridges were damaged and five collapsed, wrote Traore. Two hospitals had to be evacuated from the roof tops. Hospital staff was working to remove nearly a metre of water and mud from new surgical suites, he wrote. Expensive diagnostic imaging equipment was also damaged.
“The underground garage of the West African Monetary Union became an underground lake, and irreplaceable archives and documents of numerous other buildings as well as millions of dollars of computer and medical equipment were lost,” Kompaore said. In addition to shelter, disease and clean drinking water top the priority list of government concerns.
Rick Fast, Communications Director of for Mennonite Central Committee said that their field staff in Burkina Faso are “currently assessing the situation to determine an appropriate response,” while Kompaore heard reports that a United Nations relief team will move in to assist government officials.
Updated: Added second photo: September 15, 2009