Ethiopia + 5 more

Eastern Africa: Worst floods in decades

By Anita Swarup in Nairobi

More than 650 thousand people have lost their homes and some two hundred their lives in the worst floods in the history of Africa affecting large swathes of land all over Eastern, Central and West Africa - and the rains are set to continue into November.

In East Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia and Kenya were badly hit. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected - Uganda around 90,000, in Kenya around 26,000 and in Ethiopia around 100,000. Thousands more have been displaced. Some have died. In Rwanda 15 people died. There have been outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and acute watery diarrhoea - 3680 cases were reported in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

In Sudan, more than 500,000 people have been affected in 14 out of 26 states. The river Nile and several seasonal rivers burst their banks flooding several states. Nothing escaped the fast moving waters. Farms and livestock as well as roads, latrines, hospitals and schools have been damaged or swept away. Whole communities have been left destitute.

Ibrahim Adam Yusuf, a resident in Jedelawli region in Sudan, says: '"We were all worried as it rained constantly for 5 hours and we were waist high in water. My house then collapsed."

Ibrahim's daughter is now suffering from AWD (Accute Watery Diarrhoea), a disease which spreads rapidly with floods. Floods trigger epidemics of malaria and AWD and diarrhoea. Chronic malnutrition also occurs.

Food security has also been affected with many crops destroyed, livestock killed and widespread destruction of grain stores. Dr. Kiflemariam Andemariam, Food Security Coordinator for the Federation's Eastern Africa Zone in Nairobi says: "With harvest either already happening or just a few months away, a second emergency is looming as food shortages could become widespread."

In Uganda many have been rendered food insecure by the loss of their first harvest and delay in the second season planting. Whereas a two month 'hunger gap' is the norm, this year it is expected to last 10 months.

Many of the countries in Eastern Africa are vulnerable and disaster-prone, having been hit by both drought and floods in recent years. In Sudan, there were six major floods between 1990 and 2001 affecting over 1.5 million people. The economic costs are immense - for example in 1999 accumulated losses due to the River Nile and flash floods amounted to over USD 450 million.

The immediate needs are shelter for those displaced and water and sanitation as water gets contaminated but there are long term needs too - for example food shortages since crops and livestock have been destroyed. Emergency appeals have been issued by the International Federation - for Sudan (18 July) CHF 7,498,940 targeting 60,000 beneficiaries, for Ethiopia (14 September) CHF 941,088 to assist 42,000 people for 6 months and for Uganda (20 September) CHF 8,437,434 targeting 100,000 beneficiaries for 6 months.

In Sudan 137,930 households have received emergency assistance from the Sudanese Red Crescent since July 2007. In Ethiopia, 19,000 people have been reached and assisted by the Ethiopia Red Cross Society and over 1000 litres of cooking oil, 30,250 kg of wheat flour and nearly 13,000 blankets have been distributed.

Over the past few years, the number of emergencies that the International Federation member societies have responded to has risen steeply. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of floods operations in Africa jumped from just five in 2004 to 32 in 2006 and already, by mid September 2007, stood at 42.

The number of medium-size flood operations - those affecting more than 25,000 people - rose from two in 2005 to seven in 2006 and has already reached 14 by 20 September 2007. In the meantime, the number of Red Cross/Red Crescent responses to smaller scale flood operations - those affecting fewer than 25,000 people - also rose sharply from four in 2004 to 25 in 2006 and has already reached 28 to date.

"Our response to these smaller scale incidents is key. In situations like this, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are often the only organizations on hand to help," says Encho Gospodinov, Director of the International Federation Policy and Communications Division. "Because our volunteers live in the heart of communities worldwide, no matter how remote, they are uniquely placed to help in times of crisis. These "neglected" disasters do not hit the headlines. But the suffering of those affected - people who have lost not only their homes and belongings, but their crops and livestock as well - is just as real."