domingo, 29 de março de 2009

Torrential downpour hits the Saharawi camps

Photos of Timothy Kustusch

By: Timothy Kustusch

In one of the biggest rainstorms in over two years, storm clouds threatened to flood the Saharawi population in the refugee camps outside of Tindouf, Algeria, but no serious damage or personal injuries have yet been reported.

After intermittent rainfall in the early morning hours on Friday, the skies cleared for several hours. Just before 3 p.m., however, an eight-hour downpour started to empty onto the areas around Tindouf.

The skies turned a deep shade of yellowish-brown as rain and hail pelted the camps. Small lakes and rivers formed atop normally arid sands as roads flooded and the power was cut by frequent lightning strikes.

Mindful of the effects of previous storms in the area, the local police alerted residents of the impending danger. The warning was given out: if residents heard the firing of police weapons, they were to gather what possessions they could and take their families to higher ground. Thankfully, the shots never rang out.

During the storm, members of two youth organizations, The “Sumud” Brigade and The Freedom and Peace Group, walked tirelessly between the mud-brick houses helping residents salvage their homes and their belongings.

The groups formed human chains to pass buckets full of water out of dwellings that had been inundated and erected tents for residents who would not be able to sleep in their houses that night. They also pushed cars out of the mud, saved goats from the rising floodwaters, and dug ditches to channel water around the neighbourhoods.

The skies finally cleared around 10 p.m on Friday, with no serious injuries nor irreparable damage to houses reported in the three camps that were surveyed.

For some the downpour brought unwelcome reminders of the floods of 2005-2006 that washed away innumerable houses in the camps.

"I am terrified," said Fatima, a resident of the February 27th camp, during the storm. "Every time it rains I think of when my house was destroyed a few years ago. I can’t wait for it to be over."

But for others, the rain was a blessing. The storm brought much-needed water to the local vegetable and fruit gardens, especially the agricultural project outside of the Dakhla camp. The morning after the storm, children sloshed in their newfound ponds and lakes, a welcome respite from the normally arid clime.

"I am grateful that there was no serious damage," said one Saharawi taxi driver, "and I love to see the rain. It reminds me that the whole world is not like this hot, dry hell where we are forced to live."

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