Work with communities to prepare for disasters and reduce their impact

Monday February 10 2020


Rains in Rwanda are expected to continue through November, December and first months of 2020. PHOTO | FILE 

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Heavy rains over the past week have caused about 19 deaths leaving many displaced.

Now, Meteo is predicting more heavy rains in the coming weeks with El nino, a global climate phenomenon caused by cyclical shifts in the water temperature of the Pacific Ocean.

During normal weather patterns around the Equator, trade winds carry warm water from the tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean. Moving west, the winds distribute warm water from the Eastern Pacific into the cooler areas of the ocean.

During El niño, those winds weaken, and the east-west travel of warm water stops. The winds reverse and carry warm water back east, which makes the warm part of the Pacific Ocean even warmer. Sea surface temperatures can increase by 1–3° Fahrenheit for months, or even years.

El nino rains are expected to cause a lot of flooding, which will cause more damage to basic infrastructure, leading to displacement of many vulnerable people living in high risk zones.

But, experts caution that because the global weather system is very complex, El niño can cause both flooding and droughts in different places.


A few weeks ago, Kigali City embarked on the process of relocating some vulnerable populations to safety. Luckily, it was done ahead of the heavy rains preventing disaster.

Despite their best effort, we still lost lives during the heavy rains. Many remain displaced as a result of the process.

More effort is needed to ensure that disaster preparedness activities embedded with risk reduction measures can prevent disaster situations and also result in saving maximum lives and livelihoods during any disaster situation, enabling the affected population to get back to normalcy within a short time period.

Now that Meteo is predicting El nino rains, more measures need to be taken to prepare and reduce the impact of these natural disasters especially on vulnerable populations.

A people-centred approach is needed for an effective response. There is a need to increase public awareness for the vulnerable populations to understand the risks, effects and consequences for the community.

Beyond raising awareness, communities should be trained in disaster preparedness and evacuation related activities to reduce their vulnerability. And perhaps more importantly, disaster preparedness is a continuous process that requires multi-stakeholder consultation and coordination as it requires the contributions of many different areas—ranging from logistics, to health care, recovery to livelihood.