In 2018, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent responded to 34 emergencies in 22 countries across Africa where millions were affected by natural disasters, epidemics, population movement, complex emergencies and food insecurity.
Africa is often facing reoccurring emergencies, exacerbated by conflict, extreme weather and lack of long-term investments into resilience building. In fact, nowhere else in the world are communities more at risk than on this continent.
Looking back on 2018, we remember the five most memorable emergencies in Africa.
1. 3 million flee conflict to find refuge in Uganda
Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world’s displaced population (UNHCR). The number has soared in recent years. Conflict is the main driver of displacement and movement of refugees in Africa.
Uganda is now one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with an estimated 1.3 million people fleeing conflict from neighbouring South Sudan, DRC and Burundi.
In 2018, Uganda Red Cross has been responding to the immediate needs of many still crossing the borders, particularly from South Sudan and DRC, targeting 234,000 people affected.
2. Zimbabwe fights typhoid and cholera outbreaks in a matter of months
More than 1,000 Red Cross volunteers fanned out through the densely populated suburbs of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, in a bid to contain a deadly cholera outbreak in September. The outbreak, which started on 6 September, killed 50 people and had 8,535 cumulative cases.
“Most of the areas affected have already been dealing with an outbreak of typhoid. So, this is a double punch for them, and it shows the weakness of water systems even here in the capital,” said Maxwell Phiri, Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Red Cross.
Since the outbreak began, Red Cross volunteers have been providing water treatment, tracking and referral services, and have been going door-to-door to provide families in high risk areas with information about cholera prevention. More than 500 volunteers in Midlands, Manicaland, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces were also activated in an effort to halt the spread.
Cholera remains a major issue across Africa – yet, it is completely preventable. In 2018 alone, IFRC supported X responses to cholera outbreaks in the region. Any
3. Droughts and conflict propel Sahel into deeper hunger crisis
Some 5.8 million people across Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad are struggling daily to meet their food needs. This includes 1.6 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (UN Report, June 2018).
While food insecurity is largely due to poor rainfall and drought, climate change ushers in more extreme weather patterns – at not only an increasing number but also in scale. We will see an increased risk of crop failures and, consequently, the increase in the number of people requiring humanitarian aid.
IFRC is responding to food insecurity across the region, not only providing emergency relief, but also strengthening local communities so they are more resilient to future disasters. Despite our efforts, there are still many gaps that need to be addressed, including the lack of funding to support local actors, as well as crisis preparedness and prevention activities.
4. Floods in Nigeria
In August and September, Nigeria’s two major rivers – Niger River and Benue River –overflowed, devastating communities nestled near its banks. Nearly 200 people have been killed, and damage to homes, farmland and livestock has been extensive. In all, an estimated 1.9 million people have been affected.
Since the flood hit, Nigerian Red Cross has been in affected communities, helping with evacuations, providing search and rescue, conducting first aid and psychosocial support, displacement camp management as well as sensitizing communities on good hygiene practices in the camps. With the support of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Nigerian Red Cross is targeting 300,000 people affected by flooding this year.
5. DRC tackling its biggest Ebola outbreak in history
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been tackling its worst Ebola outbreak in history in the North Kivu. This is only months after tackling the ninth Ebola outbreak in western DRC.
This might be the most complex Ebola outbreak response in history, with the virus found in an area where there is complex and violent conflict. It is a deadly combination for responders on the ground for two reasons: first, the violence is making it difficult – at times even impossible – for humanitarians and health workers to reach remote and at-risk communities. Second, the legacy of violence means that even when humanitarians can reach communities, people are often scared and suspicious of the help being offered. It is a vicious cycle.
More than 180 Red Cross volunteers have reached nearly 160,000 people in communities across North Kivu Province to provide lifesaving information and dispel false rumours about Ebola. Specialist Red Cross teams have conducted over 235 safe and dignified burials which are crucial to reducing the spread of the disease.