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Flash flood destroys homes, puts drinking water at risk in North Darfur

© UNICEF Sudan/2005/ Townsend
The flash flood occurred in the wettest month recorded in the North Darfur area since 1944.

By Dorn Townsend

EL FASHER, Darfur region, Sudan, 24 August 2005 – Torrential rains have caused severe flooding in this city of 400,000 people and in nearby Abu Shouk, a camp for people forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing Darfur conflict. The floods have destroyed hundreds of homes and have made El Fasher’s water supply largely unsafe.

The rain began early in the morning of 13 August, lasting for six hours and totalling over 25 mm. Shortly after the rain ended, a flash flood (estimated at 2,000 litres per second for several hours) swept along a usually dry riverbed, punching through inadequate flood-control structures.

“The water started coming down the wadi [riverbed] in the mid-morning. It rose and rose until it was higher than the ravine and then it spilled over into the camp,” said Mohammed Fatah, an Abu Shouk resident. “By about noon we were up to our ankles in water and my house was flooded.”

The water toppled hydro poles, knocking out power to El Fasher’s municipal water pumps, and heavily damaged the pipes forming the town’s water and sewage system.

Reparing the damage

The homes of more than 2,200 people (660 families in Abu Shouk IDP camp and 118 families living in a nearby ravine) were destroyed. The flooding also damaged 16 ‘child-friendly spaces’ (facilities supported by UNICEF, giving children a safe place to play and study), six schools, five water-pumps and many latrines which are essential for proper sanitation.

Although the threat of more rains and floods remains, few of the affected families have chosen to relocate.

UNICEF is mounting a concerted effort to restore basic services to those affected by the flood, and to prevent the outbreak of disease. Since the flood, UNICEF has assisted with the following: 

  • Reinstalling pipes in Abu Shouk and restoring the water supply by linking boreholes with pumps.
  • Testing the water quality each day. No bacterial contamination has been found.
  • Rebuilding 156 latrines and 88 bath stations.
  • Renting five tankers to deliver more water.
  • Repairing damaged schools and child-friendly spaces.
  • Providing daily door-to-door hygiene-promotion trainings.
  • Distributing jerry-cans, soap, tarps, and mosquito nets.

The flood has exacerbated a persistent problem: the shortage of clean drinking water for El Fasher.

Water advisory issued

“The problems in the camps have stabilized, but the drinking water situation for the people of El Fasher is risky,” said Caesar Hall, the Water and Environmental Sanitation Programme Officer for UNICEF in North Darfur. “The flood damaged the city’s pumping station and we consider most of the water in El Fasher unsafe.”

The water currently available in the city is not passing through the existing chlorination and sedimentation treatment systems. UNICEF and the World Health Organization have issued an advisory to El Fasher residents. Both organizations are dispatching staff each day to hospitals and to dozens of water points to teach residents about disease prevention and the paramount importance of chlorinating and boiling their drinking water.

The water shortage in El Fasher is a problem that UNICEF has been working on for months. In cooperation with the municipal government, UNICEF has been installing water pumps on the outskirts of the city. UNICEF is also working with the Darfur Water Corporation, an agency of the government of Sudan, to create a master plan to meet the long-term water needs of this growing city. Despite the setback caused by the flood, this effort will continue until safe water is available for everyone in the community.



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