“Crocodiles and hippos roam the streets”: in Burundi, floods plunge the population into disarray

“Crocodiles and hippos roam the streets”: in Burundi, floods plunge the population into disarray
“Crocodiles and hippos roam the streets”: in Burundi, floods plunge the population into disarray

Burundi continues its long descent into hell: economy at half mast, inflation, shortage of gasoline, tensions with neighbors (closure of the border with Rwanda) and, since September, torrential rains which have swollen the river Rusizi which flows into Lake Tanganyika, the second largest lake in Africa, the level of which today flirts with the heights reached during the record flood of 1962, causing serious flooding which has already affected at least 200,000 people.

In total, between September and April 7, “203,944 people were affected” by floods, landslides, strong winds and hail, explained in a press release the Minister of the Interior, Martin Niteretse, and the resident coordinator of the United Nations System in Burundi, Violet Kenyana Kakyomya.

The government of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, alias Neva, too entangled in internal struggles and corruption, is incapable of managing these repeated crises.

“All the plagues fall on Burundi”

Crocodiles and hippos threaten

In the Gatumba area which runs along the Rusizi River, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, a standoff has arisen between the inhabitants and the government which wants to force them to move. “By hook or by crook, the people of Gatumba must be relocated”, explained on BBC radio Anicet Nibaruta, president of the National Platform for Risk Prevention and Disaster Management. “The state cannot accept that people continue to be killed by animals. Seven people have already died, including two killed by crocodiles, and five others by hippos. Gatumba is unlivable. And no one can say that he is capable of living there today. Everything is flooded: schools, health infrastructure, etc..”

”The testimonies of residents of certain localities are terrifying, explains an expatriate based in Bujumbura. Crocodiles and hippos roam the flooded streets. Residents must be careful when they open the door of their house where water has seeped in, sometimes reaching a height of one meter. These animals are in front of their homes. Every week, people are found dead, torn to pieces”.

However, most residents refuse to leave their homes and their plots of land. The government had promised, in 2021, to build dikes but nothing was ever done. The places to accommodate the displaced populations have been chosen but nothing is ready to accommodate them.

The return of cholera

“The water has already destroyed the houses, we no longer have toilets, we fear the risk of disease because of the unsanitary conditions”, recently explained a local resident. This Thursday, May 23, the Ministry of Public Health of Burundi announced on its X account (formerly Twitter) that 45 people are hospitalized in the commune of Bujumbura suffering from cholera. Since 2023, Bujumbura town hall has been confronted with 631 cases of cholera, including 3 deaths.

For Anselme Katiyunguruza, secretary general of the Burundi Red Cross, the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika are obviously among the factors in the spread of this epidemic.

“We have launched a spraying campaign in Bujumbura and its surrounding areas in areas affected by the floods. We disinfect where the water level has dropped a little to kill the bacteria present”he explains in interviews with the Burundian media.

Threat of isolation

“Logically, the rainy period ends at the end of May”, explains a resident of Bujumbura. “But the health situation will not improve. On the contrary, with the decline, we must expect an explosion of diseases. Cholera cases will soar. There is no running water in most regions and the country does not have the financial resources to put in place a real plan to combat the consequences of these floods..

“In Burundi, floods threaten but the authorities are not concerned”

Even the Bujumbura international airport saw part of its runways affected by these floods. “We feared for a time that we would have to partially close it, explains another resident of Bujumbura. With the closure of the Rwandan border, with the war on our border in the DRC, if the airport were to be closed, the country would be completely isolated which would be a catastrophe”.

Faced with these crises, the government seems paralyzed, incapable of meeting the basic needs of the population, of curbing inflation which is reaching record levels and which affects all consumer goods including flour, sugar and salt. “Burundi is in the survival phase. He is waiting for international aid and President Ndayishimiye is increasingly cut off from the reality of daily life for Burundians. He presents his country as a paradise on earth, while we are in hell. The floods only accentuate the dizzying fall of a country which does not seem to have any leverage to escape this inhumane cycle. concludes a resident of Bujumbura who fears political stiffening. “The discontent is total. power knows it and has only terror to hold itself in place.”

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