Djibouti flash floods: What will tomorrow hold?

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A flooded street in one of Djibouti's residential area.
A flooded street in one of Djibouti's residential area. Since 21 November 2019, Djibouti experienced flash floods

On Thursday morning, it started to rain around 9.30-10am. At that time, I was in a community management training. There was loud noise of rain and thunder. At the end of the training around 12:30, I witnessed a shocking scene: water was everywhere.

Once I arrived in my neighborhood, called “Quatier 2”, the situation was even worse, with water ditches and all the streets covered in murky water. There was no passage cross the sudden river that had emerged but to get inside an empty discarded fridge that everyone was using as a canoe to get to the other side.

The evening of Friday 22 of November the situation worsened. As Djibouti received unprecedented amount of rainfall in a single day, what we woke up to what was an impending disaster. The situation was worse than the previous days because the wadi of Ambouli (A permanently or intermittently dry riverbeds)  had exceeded its capacity of water storage.

Our house was engulfed in water, my bedroom was partially immersed in water, so was our living room and our kitchen, outside the house was a pool of water. Our neighbors’ houses were in a deeply engulfed by water, it was not a good sight to behold, they were helpless as it would take water pumps to dry up the whole place, that is if the rains were going to stop anytime soon.

The nearby school lost several essential materials, from textbooks to students exercise books and furniture. The infrastructure now needs to be repaired as many classes had damaged roofs.

My close family members lost electrical appliances that were affected by the water, some community members who lived in the lower part of the community had to be evacuated from their houses, imagine the lost food, the insomnia because of lack of sleep and the family separation.

From other parts of the country the situation was worrying: the fear, fatigue and despair reigned over every citizen. The rains were growing violent and had done enormous damages: destruction of roads (new Balho road), destruction of buildings... and nine people paid the ultimate price with their lives.

Here in Djibouti we are extremely vulnerable to the impact of climate change and when disasters like these happen, it is us young people, children, the elderly and women who are at risk the most.

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Flooding at a school entrance which affected many schools and they had to close for some days.
A school entrance engulfed by water.Pupils had to spend some days without going to schools until the water levels had receded.
Imagine children who were looking forward to going to school only for them to wake up to their house filled with water, their school uniforms soaked in water and even worse, their school submerged with water and damaged, so they cannot study anymore

Several children suffered a deep trauma from going through an experience they do not understand. Imagine children who were looking forward to going to school only for them to wake up to their house filled with water, their school uniforms soaked in water and even worse, their school submerged with water and damaged, so they cannot study anymore.

I imagined how many children who had no access to food or shelter during the critical days, or those whose parent’s livelihood had been torn apart. This is a tough reality that we find ourselves in and it can even worsen if we do not have strong disaster mechanisms in place. Who knows what tomorrow holds, will more lives be lost? These are the hard questions, these are the effects of climate change and we are not better prepared.

Our government took measures by putting in place a toll-free number that would allow people in need to be evacuated. Most of the families were housed at the Community Development Centers that had not been affected by water and schools that were still functional, where they received food, clean water, sleeping mattresses and medication.

As the water recedes, many people living in the affected areas are worried about the future. Recovery will take months.

The responses:

The government immediately launched its emergency plan in order to quickly assist the affected populations, with a strong involvement and participation of UN partners.

UNICEF mobilized its teams in the early hours and provided the first round of assistance to the government. Pumps for the evacuation of water in the houses have been made available as well as a large batch of hygiene kits, knowing that this type of emergency can quickly have an impact on the direct environment of families and children, facilitating the occurrence of dangerous waterborne diseases.

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