Devastating Floods Across East Africa Displace Hundreds Of Thousands

Weeks of deluge have plunged Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania into great humanitarian crises, displacing over 600,000 people in the region. 

Weeks of relentless rainfall have plunged East Africa into a state of emergency, affecting hundreds of thousands of people across Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania. 

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of May 3, a staggering 637,000 individuals have been affected, with 234,000 forced from their homes, and the numbers continue to rise.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) described the climatic events as “the worst flooding seen in decades”.

Rana Jaber, IOM Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa, expressed concern, stating that the “unprecedented flooding … has unveiled the harsh realities of climate change”.

“The torrential rains have unleashed a catastrophic series of events, including flooding, mudslides, and severe damage to vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges and dams. These disasters have not only claimed numerous lives but have also escalated the suffering of the affected populations and heighte[ne]d the risk of waterborne diseases,” IOM stated in a report published on May 8.

In response to the crisis, IOM is partnering with governments and other groups to provide urgent assistance to those impacted. According to the UN agency, over 5,000 people in Burundi have received emergency shelter, blankets, and essential items, with efforts underway to relocate affected individuals to safer areas.

In Kenya, the organisation is collaborating with the local Red Cross community to provide essential relief items and shelter to 39,000 people in the worst-hit eastern, central, and western regions.

It says that in neighbouring Somalia, it “is targeting approximately 240,000 people with shelter materials, hygiene kits, essential medical care and psychosocial support, among other services”.

“In Ethiopia, IOM has supported over 70,000 people affected by floods across Somali and Oromia regions. The assistance, provided through the Rapid Response Fund in collaboration with eight non-governmental organisations, includes the provision of emergency shelter, essential items, and cash assistance,” it added.

East Africa has faced successive drought cycles and intense precipitation in recent years, with the current deluge marking the worst flooding in decades.

“We are living in a climate emergency. In recent times, Kenyans have been shuttling between floods and droughts. As floods continue to ravage Kenya and other parts of East Africa, we are witnessing the collapse of our societies as we have known them,” observed Amos Wemanya, Senior Advisor Climate and Renewable Energy at Power Shift Africa.

“At 1.3 degrees Celsius average global temperature rises, extreme weather events caused by disasters are becoming the norm. Anything above the 1.5-degree temperature limit will condemn most African communities, including here in Kenya to doom. Already, lives and livelihoods are being lost. People have been displaced from their homes and communities and infrastructure destroyed. Climate change-induced disasters are rolling back all the gains we have made.”

The recent extreme weather events in East Africa are a source of concern for heads of state, activists, and researchers. The debate is fuelled by the fact that Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to the impacts of climate change despite contributing the least to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fadhel Kaboub, a member of the Independent Expert Group on Just Transitions and Development, said, “The horrific devastation and loss of life caused by the deadly, climate-induced floods in Kenya should serve as a reminder of the urgent need to scale up climate finance for adaptation and climate reparations for historic emissions by the Global North.”

“The countries that have exceeded their carbon budget have the moral, legal and financial responsibility to pay their climate debt in the form of debt cancellation (not restructuring), grants (not loans) for climate adaptation,” he argued.

Similarly, Mohamed Adow, Founder and Director of Power Shift Africa, said advanced economies should take responsibility for their actions, urging the Global South to demand “much more climate finance” at the next UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for November this year.

“The fossil fuel industry, and the politicians that fail to stand up to it, have blood on their hands.  This is the present and future we face if we don’t accelerate the energy transition to renewables,”  Mohamed said. 

He further explained that Africa has the potential to mitigate climate change’s impact through heavy investments in technology that can help it harness clean energy sources.   

“We are calling for international solidarity in cutting emissions,” Amos urged. 

“Every oil drilling contract or gas project means more damage to the people. Solidarity means stopping fossil fuel production and providing more climate finance. It also means provision of loss and damage funds for communities suffering from the climate devastation.”

Expert comments in this report were provided by Power Shift Africa, a climate change think tank and media engagement organisation based in Nairobi.

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Usman Abba Zanna

Usman is a multimedia journalist covering conflict, humanitarian crises, development, and peace in the Lake Chad region. He is also a media and conflict management consultant.

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