DRC-CONGO: Torrential rains overwhelm two capitals

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Flash floods that followed the heaviest rains in 50 years have claimed the lives of at least 32 people in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and wreaked havoc in nearby Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, officials said.

DRC Provincial Minister of Planning and Reconstruction Jean-Claude Mwissa said that 800 people were reported missing after the floods and some 1,500 families made homeless.

Heavy rainfall lashed Kinshasa on 25 and 26 October, causing landsides and the collapse of several bridges, cutting off some communities.

Further rains were expected in November, usually a wet month in DRC.

Authorities in Kinshasa have been giving families that lost a member to the floods US$ 500, while local Red Cross workers have provided relief.

"The needs are unfortunately enormous ... but the people without shelter, the people who have been injured should be attended to first," Ross Mountain, the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC said after visiting some of the affected areas.

Inadequate drainage systems and poor urban planning in Kinshasa are believed to have exacerbated the effects of the rains.

The deluge also brought hardship elsewhere in DRC. More than 200 families were without shelter in Kisenge, in the southwest of Katanga province, according to the local administration.

In Brazzaville - where homes were also destroyed and roads damaged by the latest, and many previous downpours - fears grew over the prospect of disease outbreaks, since stagnant water provides ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

"People have developed the bad habit of emptying their septic tanks into big open holes near their homes," said Don Ngueko, a Brazzaville resident. "When it rains all the filth collects around the houses - you can imagine the dangers this poses."

Congolese Red Cross volunteers have assured residents they will help drain the stagnant water, disinfect latrines and treat water wells.

Residents of the Brazzaville districts of Petit-Chose, Maman Mbouale and Emeraude have seen many of their streets blocked with sand washed down from nearby hills.

In 2006, about 3,600 Brazzaville residents lost their property and homes in floods and mudslides. In the district of Mpila, northeast of Brazzaville, many houses were engulfed in mud.

In May of that year authorities in Congo and the UN Development Programme drew up plans for preventing and reacting to disasters such as heavy flooding.

Work is underway on a key road leading to the north of the country to prevent major erosion.

Last year, President Denis Sassou Nguesso gave authorities in vulnerable districts of the capital ploughs to clear mounds of sand.

The Congolese Red Cross, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has distributed mosquito nets, blankets, mattresses and other household goods to some 3,500 people.

The Red Cross has also moved bodies buried in the capital’s largest cemetery to minimise epidemics caused by contaminated water.

For some in the capital, this is not enough.

"We can’t say what they are doing is bad, but given the immensity of the problem, it’s nothing at all. Major work is required," complained Alfred Gampio, who lives in a district with a high risk of erosion.

Source: IRIN