“On the island, we are used to putting barricades against the Niles during the flooding season but it never felt life-threatening. This year, by the start of august, we started monitoring the Nile levels on the eastern and western sides. We thought it would be just like every year and we didn’t worry much about it,” said Khedir.
Floods are not a new thing to Sudan, it happens almost every year. But due to climate change, these floods are getting more intense and the local capacity to respond remains the same if not less.
Sudanese people spent the last two years fighting a corrupt government. After a revolution that took down a 30-year-long dictatorship system, we finally got a civilian government and started a 3-years long transitional period in September 2020
What was supposed to follow was the year of recovery for my exhausted nation, but the pandemic has brought a new range of challenges with it. The country has over 13 thousands cases and 800 deaths. The lockdown has exacerbated the economical situation and cut off the income of hundreds of families.
This year’s floods started by July, the continous rising floodwaters and heavy rainfall killed around 100 people and inundated over 100 thousand houses which eventually forced the Sudanese authorities to impose a three-month state of emergency across the country.
“Climate change is worsening climate disasters like floods because of the increase in extreme weather events. The science has warned us that such scenarios [the floods] will soon become our new reality,” said Nagmeldin Goutbi from the Higher Council for Environm. & Natural Resources Sudan
The flooding, caused by seasonal heavy rainfall in neighboring areas, has led the Nile river levels to reach 17.5 meters – the highest level in 100 years. On September 6th, the Blue Nile was measured at 17.62 meters, this is half a meter higher than the 1948 record which was considered shocking at the time.
“We never expected this,” said Khedir Hassan, a 22-year-old who resides in Tuti Island, where the Blue and White Nile rivers meet. Tuti is one of the most intensely flooded areas.
“I feel like something bad is about to happen at any minute and I get scared when I see any clouds,” said Zainab Mohammed, a resident at Al-Maseed, a village located along the Blue Nile in the east-central region of Sudan.
A TIMELINE FOR THE FLOODINGS IN TUTI ISLAND AND AL-MASEED
1st week of August: Just like usual
“On the island, we are used to putting barricades against the Niles during the flooding season but it never felt life-threatening. This year by the start of august, we started monitoring the Nile levels on the eastern and western sides. We thought it would be just like every year and we didn’t worry much about it,” said Khedir.
“The water level continued to rise, this is when we started to get nervous and scared. A couple of days later it broke the barricades on the eastern side and the water was heading towards the houses on that side”
Residents of Tuti Island putting up barricades against the Niles
“By the start of August, the Blue Nile reached its usual levels, we started putting barricades just like every year as a precaution and it didn’t feel threatening at all. My uncles and aunts live close to the Nile. When the levels started to slowly increase, the men in the family kept monitoring it and at some points, they had rotating shifts to monitor and sleep next to the barricades so that they can warn the rest of the family if anything happens” said Zainab
“The water level kept increasing every day and eventually it broke the barricade and entered one of my uncle’s house, that’s when we started to get nervous and the whole neighborhood began putting higher barricades until things were under control again”
“On the night of August 3rd, the water broke the barricades again and I heard guys shouting and warning people that the water is heading to the houses. It was midnight, My mom and my grandfather went out to check the situation, and then around 20 minutes later, the water was inside my house. I went out and saw the moon reflection on the water inside my house yard, it didn’t feel real, it felt like a nightmare”
“I kept hearing people screaming and asking for help, we were panicking and trying to cover the water with sand. 30 minutes later, we started hearing the sound of houses falling down, this continued until 2 am. All the houses on the northwestern side of the villages were inundated”
The floods in Al-Maseed village, taken by Zainab herself
Mid-August: Unexpected developments
“The situation started to get worse, the water has started to inundate the houses on the eastern side. We [Island’s residents] immediately went there and tried to slow it down but we didn’t have barricades.”
Khider told me that the young men couldn’t just wait there and watch the water take over the area so they decided to lay down and form a human barricade while waiting for the government’s support to arrive. “Once the government vehicles and community initiative’s donations arrived, we covered the western area well and made sure it’s secure.”
Residents of Tuti Island forming human barricades to slow the water
Unfortunately, this wasn’t all for the Island. “just when we thought things were under control, the Nile on the western area also broke, the agricultural lands and the livestock over there just all disappeared underwater. It’s like we’re being slowly swallowed by both Niles”
According to the Sudanese National Council for Civil Defense, over 5400 livestock in the country have been killed by the rising water levels so far.
The western side of Tuti Island
“The water was everywhere. The levels didn’t decrease and a lot of people had to evacuate. The men in the village used suction pumps to clear the area and they set up a tent close to the Nile so they can keep monitoring the situation. They tried it put barricades again but it became very difficult because the level keeps fluctuating”
Zainab told me that people started to put barricades next to their houses in an attempt to stop the water from entering inside and ruining their furniture
September: Real damage
“Lots of houses were destroyed and people had to evacuate, the barricades are getting weaker, I’m not sure if it will be able to hold any longer. I have never seen people this scared. I’m lucky that I live on the eastern side and my house is far away, for now, but the situation is devastating”
Khider told me that the local community is now monitoring the barricades 24 hours and they rotate the shifts. “Any small break in the barricade means that we could lose 10 or even 20 houses. We can’t risk that”
“My house is now surrounded by water from 2 different sides, the east and north.. Due to This week’s rainstorm, the water level increased…My uncles and aunts had to move to the main family house away from the water. The people are trying to help families whose houses were destroyed”
Recovered furniture from destroyed houses
Photo credit: Zainab Mohammed
The National Council for Civil Defense along with community volunteers have been working to provide support for the flooded areas and the victims. “Nafeer volunteers came to our village and brought more barricades and sand to help” said Zainab
“When we see clouds and wind we start praying that it goes away. We are very scared and nervous. My family is thinking about evacuating our house. We don’t sleep well because we keep going out to check the Nile level and we don’t know what will happen next. This is a very scary situation,”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Sudan needs support more than ever. If you want to help the victim of the floods, you can donate to Nafeer – a Sudanese social tradition that comes from an Arabic word meaning “a call to mobilize”. This initiative will help the victim by providing temporary shelters, cover urgent food needs, and cover medical emergencies resulting from the disaster.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The UN humanitarian agency has warned that the situation is expected to get worse as above-average rains are forecast until the end of September. “We are evacuating people and working with Nafeer to provide support for victims,” said the director of The National Council for Civil Defense in a press conference on Tuesday.
The floods will continue to be a reality that Sudan can’t escape but the country needs to learn and implement better adaptation measures and early warning systems. This is not going to be a once-in-a-century disaster, we need to accept this reality and adapt to climate change impacts.