Along with his three children and wife, he is among 58,401 Ethiopian refugees living in Sudan. The vast majority live in two isolated camps in Eastern Sudan: Um Rakuba, and Tundaydbah, where Gebremedhn’s family lives.
"Every time it rains, I fear that the rainwater will be too much for the ground to absorb, and it will ruin my home and all of our belongings,” says Gebremedhn.
Extreme weather is a problem in Sudan. Long rains, which begin in May and last until October, have become more intense with flash floods occurring in recent years. According to the UNHCR, Sudan is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change and least ready to adapt to its impacts. The effects are acutely felt by displaced people in Tunaydbah camp.
Living in mud
Here in Tunaydbah, there’s nothing but mud for much of the year.
People say they feel forgotten and neglected. The living conditions are difficult. The camp is built on top of agricultural soil, which presents serious complications, especially during the rainy season. When it rains, the ground turns to mud and movement becomes almost impossible.
The rainy season is around the corner. To help the homes better withstand harsh weather, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has distributed materials such as wood poles, plastic sheets and grass mats, so families like Geberemendhn’s can reinforce their shelters.
Still, anxiety around the rainy season is constant, because of the agricultural land on which the structures are built. NRC has worked on digging drainage and elevating some areas to limit the impact of flooding.
Another worry is the harsh wind that precedes the rain. In nearby Um Rakuba camp, also in eastern Sudan, NRC built 1,000 semi-permanent “tukuls”, a round home typical to local culture in the region. Hand-in-hand with the refugee community, and with support from UNHCR, NRC built the tukuls using bricks and hay. The more resilient structure helps to ensure homes are not swept away overnight amid strong storms.
Hygiene and health concerns
When the Tunaydbah camp is flooded, it becomes very difficult for anyone to move around the camp to fetch water, go to the latrines, reach schools or any essential services. The hygiene and sanitation conditions at the camp are extremely poor, resulting in frequent outbreaks of diseases like cholera and malaria. During the rainy season, mosquitoes flock to the new pools of rainwater, and the floods destroy the latrines.
Gebremedhn’s wife, Tshay, worries about the effects of the rainy season on her children.
“I fear for my children when it rains,” she says. “I wish for peace in my country so that I can take my kids back.”
Making a tough situation worse
The extreme weather makes a hard situation even harder. It adds anxiety and physical discomfort on top of an already distressing, disheartening situation.
The trauma from displacement, and the painful family separation it caused, gnaws at each family member – regardless of the weather.
Azeb, 14, recounts the day she left her home in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. A blazing civil war had erupted, and widespread violence forced her family to flee. With her parents and two siblings, Azeb embarked on a difficult journey toward safety in eastern Sudan. The following days travelling through the wilderness on foot were wrought with emotions. Emotions deepened by a painful goodbye.
Azeb’s older sister, pregnant and caring for several children, was not fit for the physically demanding trip. The family was forced to leave her behind.
"When I think about home, I remember my sister. We left her behind with her kids," says Azeb.
They miss her every day.
“I heard the explosions, and I was scared. My father said we must leave now, so we left,” says Rebel, 11. “But I miss our older sister."
Gebremedhn says he wonders about his grandchild and that he misses his daughter every single day.
The situation in Sudan, one of the world's most neglected crises of 2021, must not be ignored by the international community. In 2021, Sudan experienced soaring numbers of people forcibly displaced, all-time high hunger levels and a major political crisis against the backdrop of a sinking economy. Increased awareness of the plight of people like Gebremedhn is the first step towards action.
Thanks to the generous support of UNHCR, we are able to provide shelter, non-food items assistance and education to refugees, as well as carry on camps preparation and maintenance activities in Um Rakuba, Tunaydbah, and Babikri camps. More information on UNHCR on their website.