Sudan: Hundreds of thousands affected by heavy rains and floods

August 2013, Khartoum, Sudan: A man stands on a bus in the Sharg al Nil Area of Khartoum. Flooding across Sudan may have affected as many as 530,000 people since the start of August. Credit: OCHA/Rodraksa
Flooding across Sudan may have affected as many as 530,000 people since the start of August. Community volunteers are playing a crucial role in the response.

Weeks of heavy rains across Sudan have triggered flash floods, affecting as many as 530,000 people since the beginning of August, according to Government estimates. At least 74,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed by the rapidly rising waters.

The area surrounding the capital Khartoum has been hardest hit, with witharound 180,000 people affected. Government and aid officials have already raised concerns that stagnating water in and around the city could lead to outbreaks of disease – a situation the health ministry and WHO are closely monitoring.

Heavy rains have fallen across Sudan since the beginning of August. Although rains at this time of the year are common, this year they have been heavier than average and had a particularly serious impact. For now, with more rains expected in the coming days, household supplies, shelter, and fresh water have been identified as immediate priorities for families affected by flooding.

The Government of Sudan is leading and coordinating the overall response. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society have appealed for approximately US$990,000 to assist 35,000 people.

The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies are providing emergency water and sanitation, health, food, and other support. Over 52,000 people have received household items, for example, and water trucks that are being run by the Khartoum State Water Corporation and the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières are reaching about 110,000 people each day.

"We do whatever is needed"

Community-based volunteers are playing an important role. Nafeer is one of the volunteer groups that have sprung up since the flooding started.

The word Nafeer has a very specific cultural meaning in Sudan, explains Abunafeesa Gihad, a doctor and member of Nafeer’s health and environmental committee. "When someone is in trouble, they raise the alarm, and [people] run and help them," she said.

Nafeer members have helped assess the needs of flood-affected families and have distributed food, household supplies, and medicines. They are running neighborhood sanitation drives to help people keep themselves safe from disease.

Nafeer are also using social media (including Facebook and Twitter) to reach out to members of the Sudanese diaspora to mobilize resources for their response.

For a new group of volunteers, Nafeer has achieved impressive results. In a three day period in mid-August, Nafeer volunteers say they distributed more than 3,000 ready-made meals, 3,000 plastic sheets and 200 mosquito nets.

Work like this can be emotionally intense. A typical day can last about 20 hours, Dr Gihad says, and involves "having to cheer a lot of people up and having people cheer me up as well."

Dr Gihad and the other young volunteers say their work is highly necessary.. "We do whatever we can here…whatever is needed."

The wider humanitarian community has noticed the volunteers’ efforts. "I am very impressed with the work Nafeer is doing in Sudan," says OCHA Head of Office Mark Cutts.

"Volunteers have an important role to play and it's great to see so many young people helping their communities and using social media to mobilize support."

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