As Burundi confronts deadly floods, an EU-financed initiative is softening the blow

Through early warning messages and cash transfers, WFP and partners help vulnerable communities better anticipate and endure extreme weather events.

World Food Programme Insight


“I’ve lived here for six years — I’ve never seen such heavy rainfall,” says Amina who received early warning messages and cash distributions to prepare for predicted heavy rainfall and flooding. Photo: WFP/Irenee Nduwayezu.

By Joella Bigirimana

Amina Hakizimana still recalls the heavy rains and flooding that battered her home in Burundi’s southern Rumonge province in 2021.

“When the rain came, it washed away everything: our food, our mattresses, my children’s school supplies,” recalls the single mother of four.

Her family was lucky enough to still be awake when the water began pouring in one night. “By God’s grace, my children are still alive,” she adds.

As massive rains again batter her homeland, Hakizimana and thousands like her are better prepared — thanks to a programme spearheaded by the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners, with financing from the European Union.

“I’ve lived here for six years — I’ve never seen such heavy rainfall,” she says of the torrential rainfall that has again hit her village, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

“Fortunately, we were warned and assisted in advance,” Hakizimana adds. “We were told heavy rains are expected and could destroy our homes.”

Across East Africa, torrential rains in recent months — linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon — have triggered deadly floods, wiping out harvests and displacing thousands of people. Burundi, confronted by the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika and river overflow, is among the countries hardest hit by the flooding.

Burundi, confronted by the rising waters of Lake Tanganyika and river overflow, is among the East African countries hardest hit recent flooding. Photo: WFP/Irenee Nduwayezu.

But Hakizimana counts among nearly 9,000 people enrolled in WFP’s early action and anticipation project, that includes cash distributions so they can better prepare for the floods.

“We were told that heavy rains are expected and could destroy our homes,” says Hakizimana. “We were advised to use the money properly.”

She spent much of the money on cement, to reinforce the foundation of her mud-brick home against the floodwaters. The rest went to cover the family’s needs.

Before the rains hit, WFP worked with the Burundi Red Cross and authorities to identify risk preparedness and prevention plans in vulnerable communities. We also provided equipment and training to the Burundi Geographical Institute — which coordinates climate adaptation and mitigation — to draft an action plan.

“Thanks to early warning weather forecasts, we can predict whether the rains are going to be heavier or lighter in the coming periods,” says the Institute’s Ezekiel Kayoya.

Improved weather forecasts and cash distributions mean that Amina can reinforce her home against the threat of flooding. Photos: WFP/Irenee Nduwayezu

He shows his screen and visualizes the next rainfall via a special, climate-related application that is used and shared by countries in the region.

“The early warning capacity building and the support in equipment provided by WFP makes our work faster and more efficient,” Kayoya adds.

The anticipatory efforts — including early warning messages disseminated by WFP and Burundi’s Red Cross, along with advice on farming and home protection investments — were rolled out last October, after regional and national assessments forecast exceptionally heavy rains were on their way. They were followed by the cash distributions in November, amounting to 230,000 Burundian francs (roughly US$81), to communities likely to be hardest hit.

That included those in Rumonge, where Hakizimana is grateful for the support that helped to tide her family by.

“It’s not easy for me to get a meal every day for my four children,” says Hakizimana, who survives on small jobs. “I used part of the cash distributed to buy food, so my family could have something to eat for the coming months.”

9,000 people are enrolled in WFP’s early action and anticipation project in Burundi, which includes cash distributions so they can better prepare for flooding. Photo: WFP/Irenee Nduwayezu.

The programme’s focus on early climate action and preparation is also key for farmers in Burundi — where over 90 percent of the population depends on agriculture. It allows growers like 60-year-old Aline Hakizimana to be informed in advance about the crops most suitable for the coming growing seasons, and to prepare accordingly.

“We had been informed that the rainy season is going to be heavier than expected,” she says. “They advised us to plant non-flowering beans (which can better resist excess water), which is what I did.”

The advice amounted to a lifeline: Hakizimana’s harvest will be able to feed her children.