Over the weekend, torrential rains and landslides hit Burundi, about 25 km south of Bujumbura, the capital city.

A report from the 350 Burundi team on the ground follows:

According to the Burundi Section of Red Cross, on the ground since the night of the disaster, the provisional toll is being reported as 10 people missing (presumed dead),  400 households destroyed, as well as 14 classrooms of Rutunga College, a health centre and the local Methodist Church. The National Highway 3 has been closed for a length of about 5km.

We arrived in Rutunga under a light rain. The area had been strongly devastated by floods and landslides. We met many small groups of people still stunned by the scale of the disaster. Some were clustered around the houses destroyed; others busy trying to find lost objects, and others telling their stories to neighbours and passersby.

Ciza, whose house was partially destroyed, tells us: ‘We were all surprised by the changes in the river’s normal course. It came with huge stones from hills overlooking the road and swept everything on its way: houses, crops, and other infrastructure’. He showed us the little assets he could save from his destroyed room.

A few hundred meters further, the scale of the disaster is discovered: The Methodist Church was completely destroyed and the primary and secondary schools nearby severely damaged, with all the school equipment that was inside. Some walls have collapsed and others threaten to collapse any time. When we arrived there, a group of pupils were trying hard to find and save exam copies. A resident found on site told us that the worst was narrowly avoided: ‘Fortunately, it rained after the church service. What would have happened if the rain had surprised the hundreds of worshipers during prayer hours? ‘


Aloysie, mother of 10 children who has been living in Rutunga for 30 years now says “I was inside with my family when I heard people screaming outside. Immediately I opened the door and saw huge stones plunging down the hillside and people running out of their houses. It was terrifying”. Aloysie said she had never seen such a disaster in her life. Her house has been flooded but fortunately not destroyed. But she says she stays alert as the danger is still not ruled out.

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Emergency Response

Several authorities, including the president and ministers visited the zone on Monday to see the extent of the damage. The president has called for the immediate establishment of a joint commission made of the army, civil protection police, the ministry in charge of solidarity and NGOs to better coordinate relief efforts.

This Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross was preparing to distribute first aid composed mainly of food. Opposed to the idea of being grouped in the displaced camps, victims prefer to receive assistance while remaining in their households, to keep an eye on their assets that remain intact. However, this decision is not without risk, because we could see walls collapsing when we were there. In addition to sheets metal to rebuild the destroyed houses, the 400 affected households also need pure drinking water, hygiene kits, tents, covers, kitchen sets and clothes.

Construction machines were still digging out to clean the Bujumbura-Rumonge road, very strategic for the city of Bujumbura. Meanwhile, the activity of the surrounding boatmen has suddenly intensified. Since the road is blocked, passengers now move through small boats via Lake Tanganyika.


According to the last IPCC report, climate change in East Africa, particularly in the high altitude areas, affects and will continue to affect rainfall with strong intensity and frequency.  In Burundi, rainfall was slightly above average this year. However, meteorologists are unanimous that the intensity of rainfall last Sunday was not likely to cause the significant damages as observed in Rutunga. 

The real cause is rather linked to the morphology of the landscape of the region, characterized by steep hills that are fragile to erosion. These mountains are permeable to run-off waters and landslides are not uncommon in the region during the wet season. The other reason that aggravated the extent of damage is the non-compliance with environmental standards and regulations — while the current national water code stipulates that the buffer zone from lake’s shores is of 150 meters, some of the destroyed houses were built within 10 meters from the edge of Lake Tanganyika.

We will be working with the team in Burundi to keep you updated on the situation.