Floodwaters rise across the Horn of Africa


When flash floods rushed through the small East African nation of Djibouti last week, authorities said the influx of water brought the equivalent of two years’ worth of rainfall in a single day. At least nine people died, and the flooding affected up to 250,000 people nationwide.

In a joint statement last week with the United Nations, the Djibouti government said damaged roads made it difficult to access some areas as officials worked to assess the full scope of the disaster. Poor infrastructure and substandard building practices also exacerbated the damage.

Countries in the Greater Horn of Africa region, including Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan, witnessed heavier and longer-lasting rainfall this season. From October to mid-November, rainfall rose 300 percent above average, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. Weather experts blamed the change on an unprecedented rise in temperatures in the Indian Ocean.

The flooding has left emergency workers scrambling to assist people in nations already battling other crises.

In Kenya, officials recorded at least 120 deaths from heavy flooding and mudslides, mostly in hard-hit West Pokot County. Since October, the rains have affected more than 160,000 people nationwide, according to the Kenya Red Cross. The country’s meteorological department said many parts of the country will experience above-average rainfall this month and urged residents in at-risk areas to remain alert.

One survivor, Cherish Limansin, said the storms have taken everything. “We wake up with nothing,” Limansin said. “If it wasn’t for the little help we get, we would have nothing, and so far today we have eaten nothing.”

Asha Mohammed of the Kenya Red Cross said the organization has had to scale up its response. “We’re most worried about families who have been cut off from life-saving support,” she said. “Our teams are doing everything they can to reach these areas, including using boats and treading deep waters to evacuate families in high-risk areas, conducting search-and-rescue efforts, and providing basic health services.”

Similar floods have affected about 547,000 people in Somalia and 900,000 in South Sudan. Ahead of the disaster, nearly two-thirds of the affected areas in war-torn South Sudan reported critical levels of malnutrition. The floods submerged communities and destroyed crops and shelters for already displaced people.

“I spoke to one elderly displaced resident who had sought refuge in an overcrowded church standing on a small patch of dry ground in the middle of a quagmire,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, the South Sudan chief of mission with the International Organization for Migration. “She told me she cannot remember floods of this magnitude.”

Simon Missiri, the regional Africa director with the International Federation for Red Cross, called for improved flood control methods to respond to the persistent weather conditions: “Better disaster preparedness, water flow control methods, adaptive agriculture, and more efficient methods of collecting and storing water can all help turn the threat of flooding into an economic and agricultural boon for millions of people.”

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