"We had to run"
"The rains were so heavy, there was so much water flooding our house, then it just washed away. Completely washed away. So we had to run.
The next thing I thought was that we would die because I had to pick up my children on my shoulders. The water was almost at my neck level."
Petro and his family were forced to flee their village in Malawi after Cyclone Idai destroyed their home. The aid they received allowed them to rebuild their lives.
Flooding and heavy rains have increased by more than 50% this decade; all over the world, families like Petro’s are struggling with the devastating effects of flood-related disasters.
What is a flood?
A flood happens when water levels rise suddenly, far more than the ground can absorb.
Flash floods are the most dangerous kind because they combine the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed and unpredictability. They destroy buildings, roads, bridges, and all kinds of infrastructure. They can wash away trees, animals and people.
Flash floods can happen with little or no warning, often giving families no time to prepare or evacuate.
ShelterBox's recent response to a flood was in Malawi, following Cyclone Idai which devastated parts of Southern Africa.
Why and how do floods happen?
Flooding can be caused by heavy rain, rising sea levels, fast-melting snow or even tsunamis, cyclones and hurricanes.
In recent times, climate change has been increasing the risk of floods globally, putting millions of people at risk and making coastal and low-lying areas more vulnerable.
A warming climate can cause hurricanes that move more slowly and drop more rain (source: National Geographic).
Flooding can happen anywhere in the world where it rains. In the U.S., floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning.
Often, it takes years for communities to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF FLOOD
Whether they cause minor inconveniences or major disruptions and life-threatening effects, floods touch the lives of millions of people each year, worldwide.
A river flood happens when water levels rise over the top of river banks due to heavy rain from persistent thunderstorms over the same area for extended periods of time
A coastal flood is caused by a high tide worsened by heavy rainfall and onshore winds. People living in low lying land are at higher risk.
Storm surge is a rise in water level in coastal areas, over and above the normal tide, caused by a severe storm, waves, and low atmospheric pressure.
Storm surge is extremely dangerous because it is capable of flooding large coastal areas.
Inland flooding occurs when moderate rainfall builds up over several days, intense rainfall happens over a short period, or a river overflows or dams or river banks fail.
A flash flood is caused by heavy rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than six hours.
Flash floods can rip through river beds, urban streets, or mountain canyons, sweeping away everything in their path.
What are the effects of flooding?
Flooding can be extremely damaging – even life-threatening – for communities that experience it.
It can flatten or cause severe damage to land, livestock, homes and infrastructure, leaving vast areas uninhabitable and families homeless and vulnerable.
Rapidly moving water can be extremely powerful and destructive. It can pick up and wash away cars, houses, bridges, and people.
Even after floodwaters recede, the risk still remains. The land is often left blanketed in silt and mud because water can quickly become dangerously contaminated with sewage and other toxic materials, leaving no safe drinking water.
Communications go down, roads are blocked, leaving whole communities trapped and inaccessible for days - sometimes with no food or water.
Flooding can also lead to serious water-borne disease outbreaks like malaria.
The stagnant water creates a breeding site for mosquitoes, increasing the spread of insect-borne diseases and the risk of deadly outbreaks.
In cyclone-battered Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, families were still struggling with the aftermath of Idai weeks after it made landfall.
Roads and bridges were ripped apart, homes, schools and buildings were flattened, in what is believed to be the worst weather-related disaster to ever hit the southern hemisphere.
How does ShelterBox help?
Responding to severely flooded places comes with several challenges. As whole areas become inaccessible for days or even weeks, humanitarian aid agencies struggle to reach families who need urgent aid and support.
Despite this, we have responded to flooding at least 75 times since 2000, providing emergency aid and support to over 49,000 families throughout the years.
Our largest response to flooding was in Pakistan in 2010, where 8,000 families received ShelterBox aid to help them start to rebuild their homes and lives.
Throughout the years we've worked with communities affected by flooding in Bangladesh, Paraguay, Kenya, Malawi, Peru, Sri Lanka, and other countries where people had their homes and their lives washed away by devastating floods.
We're currently responding in Paraguay, where months of torrential rain has caused severe flooding in the capital Asuncion. Entire communities were forced to move to higher grounds to escape the floodwater.
Planning for the disaster
We asked our Dave, our Operations Team Lead, a few questions in order to give you an understanding of how ShelterBox prepares for a flood-related disaster.
What are the early warning systems that ShelterBox monitors?
There are many weather events that can trigger flooding, so we monitor a number of early warning systems. The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides Atlantic and Pacific hurricane forecasting as well as a world weather system prediction for the proceeding fortnight.
Windy.com predicts global weather systems for the week ahead and we use GDACS (Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System) for all types of warnings. We also use specialist flooding sites and monitor regional national disaster agency websites and their social media channels.
How quickly can ShelterBox respond to flooding?
Shelterbox has limited resources, so we have to make tough decisions on whether to respond to a disaster or conflict. That is why we have developed our response criteria.
These questions help us make those decisions. Once the criteria have been met, we look to deploy teams immediately after an event.
What are the main challenges when responding to flooding?
Flooding events require a period of search and rescue (SAR) to be carried out by the region’s authorities. Whilst shelter plays an important role in the recovery of affected families, immediate access to medical services, food and water take priority.
ShelterBox would usually coordinate with authorities and other agencies and support families after SAR has been completed and floodwater has started to recede.
Our flooding response in Kenya last year provides a good example. We had teams in-country in May after the initial flooding event in April, but families didn’t begin collecting aid until August, as waters needed to recede before families could decide what their next steps were.
What aid items do families need after flooding?
In the aftermath of a disaster like flooding, life for families most affected can be extremely difficult.
Families often don't have access to clean water, so water filters and carriers can allow them to produce clean water.
Power lines are usually damaged for a long period of time, leaving communities with no access to electricity. Solar lights are a practical solution, enabling families to regain a sense of normality.
Flooding can also lead to vector-borne disease outbreaks like malaria. Mosquito nets can help reduce the risk of infection and help families sleep better at night.
We always spend time talking to affected communities, so that we can understand the needs and support families with the appropriate aid to start rebuilding their homes and lives.
Responding to flooding in Malawi
When Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa in March, it separated parents and children, ripped up homes and destroyed livelihoods.
A ShelterBox Response Team was deployed in Malawi soon after.
Working with Rotary, the World Food Programme and our partners Habitat for Humanity, we were able to provide ShelterKits, water filters and carriers, mosquito nets, solar lights and blankets to nearly 2,000 families.
Watch the video to find out more about our latest response in Malawi.
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