Flooding disaster in Burundi hits close to home

The displacement camps where survivors of flooding in Carama are living while they rebuild their homes. (Photo by Prosper Ndabishuriye)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re still reeling from the mudslide that leveled homes and took lives in Oso. But one local organization is also in mourning for the deadly results of erratic weather in Burundi, halfway around the world.

On February 9th, torrential rains triggered massive flooding that destroyed 4,500 homes in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital city. The floods killed nearly 70 people, and wiped away the flourishing new life a group of widows had managed to rebuild — with a little help from Seattle.

In 2008 local nonprofit Global Citizen Journey (GCJ) sent a small delegation to Burundi and paid a visit to the Carama Women’s Association’s farming collective.

Many of the 103 women in the association had been widowed during Burundi’s 12-year civil war. Having lost their husbands, their livelihoods, and their homes, they were faced with limited options for survival. They decided to come together into a collective in order to feed their own families, as well as to make some money to support themselves.

After bearing witness to the change the Carama collective had made on its member’s lives, GCJ began to provide the group with money to purchase land, tools, and seeds.

Founder Susan Partnow recalls being moved by the women’s drive: “They didn’t want to go into Bujumbura to beg — that’s what inspired us to support them.”

By carefully nurturing that seed money, the Carama Women’s Association has thrived for five years, producing enough crops to help them feed their families, buy clothing, and even obtain medical insurance.

Three of the women from the Carama Women's Association, posing with what's left of rice reserves after flooding hit their homes in February. (Photo by Prosper Ndabishuriye)
Three of the women from the Carama Women’s Association, posing with what’s left of rice reserves after flooding hit their homes in February. (Photo by Prosper Ndabishuriye)

On February 9th, all that was washed away.

Torrential rain lasting more than 10 hours caused flooding and mudslides which the International Red Cross reports have displaced nearly 20,000 people and destroyed infrastructure, power supplies, and crops.

“When I visited them I was really going to cry, because the situation was very bad,” said Prosper Ndabishuriye, the founder of Youth in Reconstruction of a World in Destruction (JRMD in French), a Burindian organization that first brought the Seattle delegation to Carama. His organization built nearly 800 of the homes in the Carama district, including those housing the women of the Carama Women’s Association

More than 45 of the women lost their homes, reports Ndabishuriye. When his organization visited Carama the day after the flooding they counted 153 homes that were completely destroyed, with many more damaged beyond repair.

While rain is common in Burundi this time of year, this level of destruction is new. Prosper Ndabishuriye can’t remember a time when such a number of people had been killed by flooding.

“It is really sad because those women do not have any support,” he said. “The people who helped them were killed during the war, and now they have lost even the few things which they were able to gain after the war with Global Citizen Journey’s help.”

The women’s houses, warehouse, and farmland was destroyed, and they lost all their belongings, including the 2 tons of rice they had saved and the crops they’d already planted.

One of the Carama homes that survived, but was damaged by flooding. (Photo by Prosper Ndabishuriye)
One of the Carama homes that survived, but was damaged by flooding. (Photo by Prosper Ndabishuriye)

Several of the women and their family members were killed in the flooding, and the survivors have moved to displacement camps where they’re dependent on organizations like the Red Cross for food, blankets, and shelter.

The women desperately need assistance. JRMD is committed to rebuilding their homes, as well as the other homes in Carama destroyed by the unusually deadly floods, and GCJ is helping JRMD raise money to get the women back on their feet.

“When you’re empowering women, you’re changing everything – and I think this project is just such a great example of that,” said Partnow.

How you can help: You can donate to JRMD’s rebuilding efforts through GlobalGiving.org

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1 Comment

  1. The group calls themselves “Kazoza Kumukenyezi” which translates as “The woman’s future”. And they were creating that in such a powerful way – creating a thriving cooperative, strongly self led and organized by amazing women who have never had any education. My heart weeps and my soul shudders as I imagine the legions of climate refugees to come… Let’s dig deep and compassionately!

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1 Comment

  1. The group calls themselves “Kazoza Kumukenyezi” which translates as “The woman’s future”. And they were creating that in such a powerful way – creating a thriving cooperative, strongly self led and organized by amazing women who have never had any education. My heart weeps and my soul shudders as I imagine the legions of climate refugees to come… Let’s dig deep and compassionately!

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