Floods without rain

Flooding in Kasese, Uganda Flooding in Kasese, Uganda Photo: Deniva [GNDR member from Uganda]

Month 3 blog of the 365 disasters campaign: Can there be a flood in a village when there has been no rain? Yes! Lucy explores some of the examples that the 365 disasters campaign has reported that highlight that bad development is often the key factor in what are often wrongly called “natural” disasters. By Advocacy Coordinator Lucy Pearson.

The 365 disasters campaign has been running for 3 months and the types of disasters that have been reported have been extremely diverse. What has become obvious is that in a large proportion of these events, bad development has been a key factor.

On Day 38 the campaign reported a flood in Kasese, in West Uganda, sent in by GNDR member Deniva. It caused the local hospital to be evacuated and damaged many homes. But there was no rain in Kasese that day. However, it did rain in a hillside village miles away. As the rain fell in the hills and travelled down to Kasese, it never found a place to drain away. The drainage in Kasese is particularly poor due to inappropriate construction. This area of Uganda has seen a rising trend in the construction of roads and buildings without consideration for passages for rain water. This results in the rain hitting concrete with nowhere to go, leading to flooding miles downstream from where it rained.

On Day 53 the campaign reported a disaster sent in by GNDR member, Pattan Development Organisation, in Pakistan. On the 17th July thirty minutes of rain caused a flash flood in Chitral, North Pakistan. Two people were killed, roads were destroyed, homes lost power, and resultant shortages of clean water added to the communities’ struggle. Also as a result, landslides occurred causing further damage to roads and bridges. Sarwar Bari, National Coordinator at the Pattan Development Organisation, told us “During the rainy season, landslides are very common. When I passed through this area of North Pakistan in July I had to stop or slow down due to landslides in at least 20 different places over a stretch of about 150 kilometres”. Sarwar says that these flash floods and landslides occur more frequently in locations where deforestation has taken place. Since 1980, when forests were commercialised and community ownership was abolished, the country has seen a very active “land mafia” in Pakistan and reduction of forest cover to just 3% of the country. Without trees present to absorb heavy rainfall, water levels rise more quickly and without their roots to stabilise the ground, the land collapses more easily when slopes are saturated. So whilst the intense 30 minute rain may have been a trigger in the damage seen on the 17th July, uncontrolled removal of trees and poor governance were perhaps the bigger factors.

Finally, earlier in August the 365 disasters campaign reported a case of violence in Kenya. GNDR member AFOSC Kenya informed us of the event via Facebook sharing with us that 2 had died after communities clashed over disagreements of the use of farming land in Tana River County. The rising cost of land, lack of mechanisms to uphold land rights, and poor land planning all came into play in this event. With families unable to afford the increasing land prices, and their land rights not being upheld by local and national governments, these conflicts over resources continue to increase.

These examples demonstrate that natural phenomena may not be the most critical factor at play when it comes to the disasters that affect communities every day around the world. As such, approaches to reducing disaster impacts cannot focus solely on addressing these natural elements. To reduce the number of people dying in landslides, ecosystem protection and forestation laws need to be upheld. To reduce the disruption to basic services after floods, construction methodologies must allow rainfall run off. This month saw the finalisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which replace the Millennium Development Goals and aim to ensure the sustainability of people, the planet and peace. The vision is a world free of poverty, hunger, and disease, where all life can thrive without fear. The DRR community had been pushing for resilience to not only be a cross-cutting aim within the SDGs, but also be framed as a development challenge. The interconnectedness between disasters and development are recognised in the wording of the newly released SDGs. But, after governments formally adopt the new framework on the 25th-27th September, it will be important to ensure that they continue to be reminded that disasters are a development issue. Only when disasters are viewed as a manifestation of development failures will states be able to achieve the ambitious goals of the SDGs and those of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR). Without this shift in thinking, strategies to reduce poverty will be ineffective and targets to reduce disaster losses will never be met. So let’s remind them: share with us and with the world examples of the disasters happening in your area on a daily basis and let’s together take advantage of the momentum and attention received by the adoption of the new sustainable development framework in September to raise awareness of how development failures are causing disasters every day.

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