Rwandan churches express pain after floods kill 130 people

Posted May 5, 2023

[World Council of Churches] Church leaders in Rwanda are mourning the death of 130 people after massive floods struck several districts in the tiny East African country.

The devastating floods and landslides followed an extremely heavy downpour on May 2 in west, north and southern regions. Rescue teams were racing to recover bodies trapped in collapsed houses and mudslides.

Accounts tell of entire families being killed or injured, and a desperate need for basic services for thousands of people left homeless by the flooding. More than 5,000 houses have been swept away, according to the authorities, with officials anticipating the death toll to rise, following reports of hundreds of people missing.

“It is so sad that so many people have lost their lives in the flood disaster. Many families are also affected. We are praying for them,” the Rev. Evalister Mugabo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Rwanda, said in an interview.

The flooding was triggered following days of heavy downpours in the regions that record heavy rainfall between March and May. Recently, regions in Eastern Africa have experienced alternating droughts and flooding linked to the global climate change phenomenon.

In Rwanda, some of the local clerics are part of the ongoing relief interventions in the latest disaster, alongside religious organizations, government authorities, and humanitarian organizations. The agencies are providing services — including food, water, medicines and shelter — to the displaced people and burying the dead.

Some officials, however, say the church wants to do more.

“The church wants to do something, but as you know, it has no capacity. This is beyond us, we need all the help we can get,” said Anglican Archbishop Laurent Mbanda of Rwanda.

Mugambo echoed similar views, saying the churches in the region were getting ready to respond, but the action was slow due to limited resources.

“I call on anyone, who feels they can stand with us as LCR (Lutheran Church in Rwanda), to do so, so that we can support the needy people as part of our diakonia ministry,” said the bishop, while hailing the government response.

The United Evangelical Mission asked for prayers for Rwanda following the flooding disaster. According to the organization, the Rev. Bataringaya Pascal, president of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda, and Anglican Bishop Assiel Musabyimana on May 3 had  reported that more than 95 people had died and many were missing after torrential rain caused flooding and landslides. The bishop reported that relief efforts had started immediately, but continuing heavy rain hampered the task.

“Let us join to pray for all victims of this natural disaster, for the disaster to stop and for the victims to be rescued. We pray for the people whose lives have been devastated by heavy rains and floods,” said the organization.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has assured the population that his government was doing everything possible to address the situation. He said the government was evacuating the people from risk areas and offering temporary shelter. The authorities have since ordered the people to move to safer areas.

Jean Claude Musabyimana, Rwanda’s minister for local government, on May 4 urged the churches to open their doors to the needy and displaced populations.

“Churches, schools, friends and other facilities with available space can be used to accommodate people displaced by the disaster,” Musabyimana told The New Times of Rwanda.

Heavy rains and hailstorms pouring in Rwanda during January and May are usually tragic. In 2020, flooding resulting from heavy rainfall killed at least 80 people, but the latest toll is the worst ever in the country.