Drought to deluge: Horn of Africa experiencing floods after six seasons of failed rains

Flash floods that damaged large areas of cropland likely to deal the hunger-plagued eastern Africa region a major blow

By Tony Malesi
Published: Monday 01 May 2023
More than 200 families have been affected by floods in Mokowe, Lamu County, after torrential rains for three days. Photo and caption: Kenya Red Cross / Twitter

The ongoing heavy rainfall and flash floods in Kenya and parts of the Horn of Africa have led to significant damage to properties and loss of lives, according to officials.

Situation reports by multiple organisations, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) and the Kenya Red Cross showed dire cases of flash floods in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania and others.

In most of the cases, the flash floods have resulted in the loss of lives, livelihoods and disruption of health services. Needless to add, they have also damaged road infrastructure, sanitation facilities and water sources, and led to the closure of schools, among other impacts.

The Kenya Meteorological Department had earlier predicted the ‘long rains’ season would begin with light to moderate rainfall in some parts of the country after six consecutive seasons of failed rains

Unfortunately, the rainfall has intensified, wreaking havoc on human populations and significant property destruction. 

Several regions in Kenya are affected by flash floods, which have left a trail of deaths and property destruction. So far, 12 people have died in northern Kenya and over 5,000 families have been displaced courtesy of floods, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

In addition, several human settlements have been marooned in flood water and thousands of people displaced, exposing them to extreme weather events, poor sanitation and ultimately deadly diseases.

Several regions of Ethipia, too, have been hit by excessive rainfall in the last three weeks. There were widespread floods and rivers overflowed, resulting in casualties and damage to crops and property, according to the UN-OCHA reports.

“At least 29 people have passed on, with over 240,000 affected or displaced across the country. Most of the affected citizens are located in Oromia and Afar Region,” according to UN-OCHA.

Pockets of Tanzania are experiencing severe floods due to heavy downpours from the ongoing monsoon rains. No deaths have been reported so far, but an estimated 1,976 people have been affected, with properties worth millions of shillings destroyed. 

Smallholder farmers in the country suffered losses after agricultural fields with crops ranging from rice, cassava, sorghum, cashews, coconuts and legumes were washed away. 

Several regions in Somalia have been receiving moderate rains starting the last week of March, with the heaviest rainfall recorded in Gedo and Bay regions, according to a UN-OCHA report.

Nearly 100,000 people have been affected by heavy downpours and flash floods in several areas, according to the report.

“The worst affected district is Baardheere in Jubaland state, where 21 people, including six children, have reportedly died since March 22, 2023. The floods have also destroyed six health facilities, over 200 latrines and four schools,” reads the report in part.

Reportedly, over 1,000 hectares of farmland have also been swamped and education has been disrupted for over 3,000 children. 

“An inter-agency assessment by partners and authorities in Baardheere found that more than 13,000 families (about 78,000 people) have been affected, with shelters of 8,945 families (about 53,600 people) damaged or destroyed,” according to a UN-OCHA report. 

The Horn of Africa is still recovering from the devastating effects of the prolonged and worst drought in 40 years, which has had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of millions of citizens.

Authorities and humanitarian agencies, including the Red Cross and the UN, have raised concerns over a possible rapid deterioration of the living conditions.

Those at the highest risk include vulnerable populations, especially school-going children and internally displaced persons, who now live in overcrowded settlements with inadequate healthcare services, shelter and sanitation.

The floods also come at a time when the countries in the Horn of Africa are struggling with a sharp surge in climate-linked disease outbreaks, including diarrhoea, cholera and measles, among others.

The authorities are concerned that the disease burden and infections are likely to spiral out of control due to the risk of citizens consuming contaminated water and lack of enough sanitation and hygiene services.

The flash floods are likely to deal the hunger-plagued eastern Africa region a major blow, considering the long rains season is a crucial period for its agricultural sector.

In Kenya, for instance, the agriculture sector creates employment for over 70 per cent of the population, especially in the arable Western, Rift Valley and Central regions.

The heavy rainfall has resulted in flash floods, landslides and other related life-threatening disasters, which have disrupted transportation networks, displaced communities and exacerbated the disease burden across the eastern Africa region.

Experts and organisations that provide humanitarian assistance are afraid the current floods may wipe away some of the gains and progress made.

“We have visited some of the flood victims and made an initial assessment to start guiding the emergency assistance to the affected communities,” read in part a statement by the Kenya Red Cross.

The aid organisation and others that provide emergency assistance and disaster relief have called on all partners and well-wishers to quickly come together to help the affected communities before the situation worsens.

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