Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese are struggling to reclaim their lives and lost livelihoods after experiencing the worst flooding to hit the country in decades. United Nations and international aid agencies are working with the government to provide emergency assistance to the victims and to rehabilitate the damaged homes, schools and other infrastructure. Lisa Schlein recently visited Mayo Farm, a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum. She reports for VOA on efforts to help people recover.
The music eases the pain of the bumpy ride along rutted roads. Mayo Farm is one of four official camps for internally displaced people, mainly from southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. It is located on the outskirts of Khartoum and after 20 years of occupancy, it has taken on an air of permanence.
Early on, most people lived in huts, makeshift shelters and tents. These have been replaced with more stable houses made of mud, bricks and concrete.
"Some people have received plastic that was procured by UNICEF or are receiving plastic that was donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development ... This is being done by SUDO, a Sudanese national NGO," said Sarah McNiece, who coordinates the distribution of non-food items in Northern Sudan. She says a special distribution of relief items is under way for flood victims who missed out on the last one.
"There was a distribution here at the beginning of July ... to 4,000 households because there were very strong floods at the beginning of July," she added. "And, then this distribution today is to about 850 households that have been affected by rains since the beginning of July. There were heavy rains a couple of weeks ago ... They are picking up one piece of plastic which they use to either reinforce their roofs or to make an entirely new roof. The jerry can for carrying clean water or for storing water and two blankets."
People are patiently queuing up to receive their relief items. Most are women.
I introduce myself to 22-year-old Mel who is standing with her two small children. Through an interpreter, she tells me she and her family fled from the fighting in Bahr El-Ghazal in southern Sudan.
INTERPRETER: "Yes, she has been here for many years, but she wants to go back to her home because her relatives are there."
SCHLEIN: "Did you suffer a lot from the floods? Is life difficult for you in the camps for you?"
INTERPRETER: "Yeah, they suffered a lot from the floods. She has got a room, which collapsed, and also she has an Arakuba. It is just like a verandah in front of the room. It also fell down ... She has not received because this is the first time for her to come and receive something."
Torrential rains began falling at the end of June, one month earlier than normal. The unusually heavy rains are subsiding. But, John Clarke, who coordinates flood response in Sudan, says they created widespread devastation.
"We have seen over 400,000 people affected. That is 82,000 households, of which we believe half have been destroyed. So, about 200,000 people are without homes ... That is the equivalent of one-third of Dubai or half of my home town, which is Ottawa, Canada. So, the scale of the flooding and the damage is extensive," explained Clarke.
The floods killed at least 150 people and injured hundreds. Clarke says crops and livestock have been lost and the damage to public infrastructure is extensive.
"Two-hundred fifty schools have been destroyed in northern and southern Sudan, leaving about 56,000 children without access to education. So, overall, I think what we can say fairly safely is that this is the worst flooding in Sudan in most peoples' living memory," he said.
The flood victims are receiving help from a number of U.N. and private aid agencies. The Food and Agriculture Organization is vaccinating livestock. It also is distributing seeds and tools to help people replant crops.
The World Health Organization is implementing programs to prevent diseases from breaking out. WHO Health Sector Head, Ahmed El Ganainy, says malaria and water-borne diseases such as diarrhea occur every year during the rainy season. But, he says he fears the situation will be particularly bad this year because of the floods.
"With flood and rainy season you expect an increase in diarrheal disease or water borne disease due to the water pollution and bad sanitation and the flooding of latrines, which is exactly what we are having now uprising in cases of water borne diseases related. And we are expecting very soon to start three weeks from now is the vector borne disease, for example malaria diseases to be shooting up," said El Ganainy. "We are expecting up to four million cases of malaria this season due to the heavy rain."
Dr. El Ganainy says a lot of medicines, mosquito nets, insecticides and other supplies will be needed until the emergency is over.
Aid agencies say access and money are their two main problems. Many roads and bridges are cut, making it difficult to reach the flood victims. They note the United Nations has received only $1 million from the $20 million appeal it launched a few weeks ago.