(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As if people didn't have it hard already...



Water is a powerful and sometimes terrifying substance. I grew up in a part of the world that doesn’t get much, relatively speaking. Most of my adult life, however, has been in places that are quite wet. Burundi is so far the wettest. 

The past few days have been wet to the point of causing epic flooding. It’s a tragedy that is a reminder of how many ways there are to die in this country. There are no official numbers yet but supposedly anywhere from sixty to a hundred people have perished due to houses collapsing and drowning, landslides, etc. The majority of the dead were children as can be seen in this photo from PressTV by the small figures covered by the cloths. Bodies are still being uncovered in the mud.


The morning after the storms I was driving to work unaware of the news, the deaths and the overall extent of the damage. We’d lost electricity during the storm but that wasn’t unusual. While the rains were intense, we felt that other storms previously had packed a bigger punch. It’s likely that it was the accumulation in addition to the storm itself. I was told that a nearby river gave way and waves of water came rushing across the lower part of the city.
 
photo from my phone as I was driving to work
As I approached the office I started to realize that this was unlike anything I’d seen previously. In addition to the water that was up to the side panels of my Land Cruiser at times (has happened before), huge areas were completely under water, particularly on the right side of the road opposite  our office. I was desperately hoping that our office was spared. The guard opened the gate and I could see that, though it was wet, there was no flooding inside the compound. 
 
ugh
A bit later in the morning, however, the information began trickling about the deaths and destruction. My colleague Marc called and said that our logistical support compound, which I hadn’t visited yet that morning, was completely under water. Loads of equipment had been damaged, non-food items from UNICEF destroyed and all work was suspended. Though we didn’t have any deaths among our staff, we didn’t escape the wrath of the deluge.
 
more ugh
According to police, the death toll was the highest in living memory from a disaster caused by extreme weather.  Efforts to restore order, repair bridges, rebuild houses, reconnect power, etc. are likely to continue for some time. This morning, a couple days after the disaster, I was driving on one of the main paved roads in the city. But there was so much mud and dirt from the flood that if you were not aware you would assume that it was simply a wide dirt road that had never been paved.
Hopefully we can get our logistics activities up and running today. It’s particularly frustrating since we are moving those operations to another compound adjacent to our headquarters. Had the work been on schedule, we would have already been in our new compound – an area protected from the flood.

One story I read today touched me, in particular since I have small children. A 21-year-old woman was in bed with her 1-week old baby in a small, mud house on the outskirts of Bujumbura. 
"A large wave hit our house. The water rushed in an ejected us through the doorway. My child fell from my arm and was carried away. I wasn't able to save her.." she said in a monotone voice. "They found her body down at the base of the hill."

In addition to the loss of life, thousands have lost livelihoods and over 10,000 are without shelter. I’ve said this before but living in Burundi takes all the fun out of complaining. No matter how bad your circumstances are, someone across the way, someone you know, has it far worse than you.  I suppose that's the case anywhere but particularly here. 
“In the face of suffering, one has no right to turn away, not to see.”
 -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)