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Severe Flooding Threatens Lives And Futures In Burundi

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FORBES 26 FEB 2020

Weeks of torrential rain have devastated communities in already impoverished Burundi. UNICEF is supporting relief efforts. You can help.

The rains began in December, triggering landslides and massive flooding across northern Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries. Roads, bridges and crops have been destroyed, livestock killed and vital water access points washed away. Houses built of mud bricks have literally melted in the rain, leaving hundreds of families with nowhere to go. 

On January 29, 2020, children play in the muddy remains of a road washed away by severe flooding in Bujumbura, Burundi.
On January 29, 2020, children play in the muddy remains of a road washed away by severe flooding in Bujumbura, Burundi. © UNICEF/BARIKUMUTIMA

Evelyne, a young mother, sits stunned in the remnants of her house, which collapsed overnight. “I am desperate,” she says. “I have no idea where I am going to sleep tonight. We have lost everything.” 

A young mother sits beside the ruins of her home, which collapsed in the night in the Kanyosha neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi.
A young mother sits beside the ruins of her home, which collapsed in the night in the Kanyosha neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi. © UNICEF/BARIKUMUTIMA

As the flash floods began, the UNICEF USA Mercury Fund rushed $100,000 to expedite emergency response efforts.

The Mercury Fund provides immediate, flexible support to help UNICEF country offices reach vulnerable children in the crucial early days and weeks of an emergency.

The fund also helps communities build back stronger, incorporating disaster risk reduction measures to protect them from future environmental crises. 

In Bujumbura, Burundi, a woman with a baby on her back carries a basin filled with cooking materials she was able to salvage from the remnants of her home.
In Bujumbura, Burundi, a woman with a baby on her back carries a basin filled with cooking materials she was able to salvage from the remnants of her home. © UNICEF/BARIKUMUTIMA

Even before these disastrous floods, some 1.74 million people in Burundi, including 976,200 children, were in need of humanitarian assistance. In 2019, the country declared its second cholera outbreak and passed the threshold of a full-blown malaria epidemic, with 50 percent of the population affected.

The country’s maternal mortality rate of 712 deaths per 100,000 live births is among the highest in the world. UNICEF Burundi programs provide child protection, education, safe water, vaccinations, malnutrition screenings, Ebola prevention measures and more.

Houses made of mud bricks virtually melted in Burundi's heavy rains.
Houses made of mud bricks virtually melted in Burundi’s heavy rains. © UNICEF/BARIKUMUTIMA

Climate stress has extended and exacerbated Burundi’s rainy season. The rapidly changing climate is undermining the futures of children everywhere, according to a new report by a Lancet Commission convened by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The report found that Burundi has the world’s lowest carbon emissions per capita. It is no small irony that the least developed countries — those least likely to contribute to global warming — are often the hardest hit by the effects of climate change. 

Keeping children and families safe from waterborne illnesses will be a challenge in flood-ravaged Burundi.
Keeping children and families safe from waterborne illnesses will be a challenge in flood-ravaged Burundi. © UNICEF/BARIKUMUTIMA

It will be a long time before families affected by the floods can resume their normal daily lives. UNICEF will be there every step of the way, assisting those who need it most and helping communities build back stronger and safer. 

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