Building and planning code violations were largely to blame for the deaths - amid torrential rain earlier this month - of dozens of people in Burundi’s capital, and the destruction there of 3,500 homes, according to a leading urban planning expert who noted that numerous reports had warned of just such an eventuality.
Children accounted for most of the 68 deaths on 10 February in a city that is surrounded by very steep hills. Some 15,000 people have been left homeless and are now staying in five centres around the city where the government and Red Cross are providing food and other essentials.
“Most of the victims had built their homes in the beds of major water courses, whereas construction is forbidden in these locations,” Bernard Sindayihebura, a professor at the University of Bujumbura, told IRIN. Much of the recent construction in the city was haphazard and did not follow regulations, he said.
And while quarry businesses have since 1993 been obliged by law to rehabilitate areas worked, including by planting trees, the professor noted that the once-forested hillsides around the capital are bare, exploited anarchically with no effort made to fill holes dug.
Another problem he noted was that some drains become narrower rather than wider as they descend the steep hillsides and this, coupled with maintenance failures, led to catastrophic overflows into inhabited areas when there was heavy rain.
Deputy Mayor of Bujumbura Remy Barampama said the drains had been badly designed, in some places resembling funnels which were “incapable of coping with all the water from the mountains and households of the city”.
Some of the destroyed houses had been built on “loose soil mainly composed of deposits left by streams or previous floods”, which was washed away during the latest heavy rains, taking the houses with it, explained Sindayihebura.
“With these kinds of slopes, no habitation, no building or settlement should be at the bottom [of the hill]. If there is a settlement we are inviting death at times of heavy rain,” he said.
“If there are floods today, landslides are possible tomorrow,” he added, explaining that floodwaters had gouged out ravines and that further flooding should be expected in Bujumbura, notably near the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the depth of which, he said, had increased by a full two metres since 2005.