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Remarks by Paola Emerson, Head of OCHA in Sudan, at the Plenary Meeting of the African Union Permanent Representatives Committee on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced People

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Briefing on the humanitarian consequences of the recent floods in Africa

Excellencies, Members of the Permanent Representatives Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the humanitarian consequences of the flooding that has affected many countries in Africa in recent months, impacting millions of people. Today, I would like to briefly cover the scale of the situation we are confronting; describe some of the efforts underway to respond; and highlight what more is needed.

This year, millions of people have been impacted by floods across East, West, and Central Africa with some 1.5 million of them displaced. In East Africa, over 4 million people have been affected, including 1.6 million in Somalia; nearly 1.1 million in Ethiopia; over 850,000 in South Sudan; over 350,000 in Kenya; and thousands in Tanzania and Uganda. In Sudan, about 875,000 people have been affected by the country’s worst floods in decades. In West and Central Africa, flooding has affected 2.2 million people, more than twice as many as last year. This includes over 515,000 people in Niger; more than 435,000 in Nigeria; and over 285,000 in Chad. Several countries in Southern Africa also experienced flooding earlier in 2020.

Flooding is, unfortunately, a crisis that many countries and communities across the African continent face year after year. However, while improvements have been made in how we prepare for and respond to cyclical flooding, we are faced with the prospect of more severe flooding due to the climate crisis. At the same time, in many locations, flood-affected communities are struggling to cope with other crises.

The floods have been particularly devastating for those who were already vulnerable from the impact of conflict. In Ethiopia, across some of the most affected regions - including Afar, Amhara,
Gambella, Oromia, Somali and SNNP regions - more than 1.1 million people were already displaced by violence before the floods hit. In South Sudan, Jonglei was one of the states hardest hit, adding to the effects of devastating sub-national violence earlier in the year. In West and Central Africa too, many of the affected regions continue to struggle with insecurity.

This year’s flooding comes at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted people’s lives and livelihoods and stretched Government and humanitarian resources in many countries. The floods have destroyed houses, goods, crops and fields, threatening agricultural production, food security, and livelihoods. In Somalia – and in some states of Sudan – some 20 percent of planted land was inundated by flooding. This is putting additional pressure on communities whose livelihoods have already been impacted by the economic slowdown associated with COVID-19, and, in parts of East Africa, desert locust outbreaks.

COVID-19 has also stretched many countries’ health systems. This has increased vulnerability to diseases that often follow floods, as access to water and sanitation is affected. In Sudan, for example, millions are at risk of contracting water- and vector-borne diseases. By the end of September, over 1.5 million malaria cases were reported, reaching epidemic levels in 15 out of 18 states, and outbreaks of chikungunya and viral hemorrhagic fever have been reported. Flooding can also disrupt regular health programs, as seen in South Sudan where a measles campaign is to shortly commence in the flood affected areas in Pibor, following reports of rapidly spreading cases.

Across all countries impacted, the United Nations has been working closely with national and local authorities – including national disaster management agencies; local and international NGOs; Red Cross and Red Crescent societies – and with the support of donors – to provide vital assistance to those most affected by the floods. This includes the provision of food, shelter, nonfood items, water and sanitation, health services, and protection. The role of local NGOs, civil society, and particularly that of women in identifying the needs and shaping the response is central to the success of any response.

As floods escalated across the region, we worked with partners and donors to galvanize resources to save lives and alleviate suffering. The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated over US$44 million this year to provide life-saving assistance to those affected by flooding in 8 countries. This includes $10 million provided for South Sudan in October; $4.5 million for Niger in September; and $8 million for Ethiopia in August, as well as earlier allocations for Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Country-Based Pooled Funds managed by OCHA on behalf of contributing donors have also provided millions of dollars in support to agencies and NGOs, including $11 million in Sudan; $10 million in South Sudan, and $9 million in Somalia. In South Sudan, at least 620,000 people have been reached with food assistance and 350,000 people with livelihood support. In Sudan, over 400,000 people have been reached with critical support.

However, more support is urgently needed from the international community. In Ethiopia the flood response plan requires $48 million but has so far only received $8 million from the CERF. More than US$80 million is needed in South Sudan, but only $20 million has been provided.

The UN is also seeking to support action earlier, before a crisis hits. In June, the UN’s Emergency Response Coordinator activated the Somalia Anticipatory Action Framework on a pilot basis, agreeing to release up to $15 million from the CERF in anticipation of the “triple shock” of desert locusts, COVID-19 and flooding in Somalia.

In addition to the humanitarian response, there is a critical need for investment in development, early warning and longer-term flood mitigation activities, which many countries across the continent are actively pursuing. However, we must also acknowledge that the climate crisis is rapidly outpacing our collective efforts to prevent and mitigate disasters. An intensification of these efforts must therefore be accompanied by a drive for global action to tackle the climate crisis. And, in the meantime, we must ensure that emergency responses are rapid and well-funded wherever and whenever they are required.

Lastly, even after the floods have subsided, we must continue to advocate for the full funding of humanitarian appeals, which is critical to enable us to respond to the multi-faceted crises faced by those hardest-hit by the climate crisis, conflict, COVID-19 and other shocks across the continent.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.