The farmer from Kassala in eastern Sudan had an idea of the power of the River Gash but never imagined it would threaten his livelihood and the region’s food security to the extent it has done this year.
“It washed everything away,” said Ali Soliman Dafallah, as he inspected what was left of his farm in Tamis, a small village on the Sudanese-Eritrean border famous for its fruit and vegetables, which are exported to other states in Sudan.
Overnight, the Gash, a seasonal river flowing from the Eritrean plateau and long considered a lifeline for the people of Kassala, burst its banks, submerging 105 hectares of farmland in Tamis and sweeping away seedlings and crops.
The flooding, the most severe to hit the region, also damaged 70 wells in Tamis which farmers use to store water for the dry season, and disrupted the village’s irrigation system.
Majzoub Abu Moussa, the minister of agriculture for Kassala State, conceded that farmers in the region suffered immense losses.
“The floods inundated 1,900 acres of land prepared for planting fruits and vegetables,” the minister told reporters.
He added that the floods also uprooted about 2,000 fruit trees and completely damaged 625 wells and many farmers were still unable to return to their farms.
In Tamis, the torrent destroyed homes, forcing farmers to flee. “More than 65 left,” Dafallah said, adding that Kassala had just started to recover from the 2003 floods when the Gash broke a new record of 2.7m and almost submerged the town.
“This year, it rose to more than 3m,” said Abdul Rahim Saleh, an official at the irrigation ministry.
Flooding over the years has undermined the quality of the land, rendering it less fertile and reducing farming yields.
“The water comes with sand and not silt,” said Wegdan Abdel Rahman, the Kassala team leader of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Agriculture is the mainstay of Kassala’s economy and loss of its fertile lands will disrupt the income of farmers and production, according to Abdel Rahman.
“The floods caused severe damage to the agricultural sector and this will affect food security in many dimensions,” she said.
Impact on consumers
Consumers have begun to feel the impact as traders briefly hiked prices and officials warned that fresh produce may soon be in short supply in Kassala and neighbouring states that depend on Kassala for these commodities.
Dafallah said some farmers were considering quitting altogether. Many have been forced to sell livestock to make ends meet, he explained.
“So really there is a disaster,” said Abdel Rahman.
Her agency said it was trying to encourage farmers to stay, promising to help them start afresh.
“FAO is launching an appeal to secure funds for these farmers,” said Abdel Rahman.
She added th at the agency had received US$300,000 to purchase tools and seeds. Some of the funds will help repair damaged wells and the irrigation system.
However, most of the locals want a permanent solution to the problem. Officials said the government had discarded the idea of diverting the river. Saleh, from the irrigation ministry, said the alternative was to build concrete walls on either side of the river in the most vulnerable areas.
A committee set up to study the possibility estimated that it would cost at least $50 million, which the state government cannot afford.
Last week, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, approved a grant of $8.7 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to support the ongoing humanitarian response to the flooding.
“Thanks to these funds, we will be able to assist over one-and-a-half million current and potential flood victims, until or beyond the end of the rainy season,” Holmes said.
This year’s floods, the worst in living memory, have already claimed the lives of more than 90 people and affected nearly 80,000 families across Sudan, officials said.
In the most recent tragedy, one pupil died and 17 others were injured when the roof of their classroom in North Kordofan State in central Sudan collapsed on them, officials said.
The UN and its partners have so far supplied aid to at least 500,000 people and plan to continue assisting flood victims until the end of the rainy season in mid-September.