Climate Change: East Africa Grapples with Floods as El Nino Rains Ravage the Great Lakes Region

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The East African region is currently facing the repercussions of climate change following months of torrential rains that have flooded water basins, killing hundreds and displacing hundreds of thousands in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Despite Kenya and Tanzania being the worst hit, all other East African states are grappling with the El Nino weather pattern, which has brought devastating floods to the region since September 2023, peaking in April 2024, destroying homes, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure across the region.

El Nino is a naturally occurring climate pattern typically associated with increased heat worldwide, as well as drought and heavy rains.

Kenya, which has been the most affected by floods and landslides, has recorded over 180 deaths since March 2024, with hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes, in addition to roads and other infrastructure being submerged, according to the latest information from the government and Red Cross. The death toll exceeds that from floods triggered by the El Nino weather phenomenon late last year.

According to Kenya Red Cross South Rift Regional Manager Felix Maiyo, aid workers were still pulling bodies out of the debris by Wednesday, May 1, 2024, in a disaster that has prompted Pope Francis to speak out in sympathy with Kenyans during a general audience on Wednesday at the Vatican.

In Tanzania, at least 155 people were killed, with more than 51,000 households affected by the rains and floods between November 2023 and late April 2024, according to the country’s Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa.

Prime Minister Kassim attributed the devastating effects of the rains to environmental degradation and blamed deforestation, unsustainable farming practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture, and unregulated livestock grazing.

In Rwanda, ten people have been killed in the past two weeks due to disasters triggered by heavy rains in various parts of the country, according to the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management.

Philippe Habinshuti, the ministry’s permanent secretary, told reporters that the heavy rains also caused destruction to property, including houses, crops, and road infrastructure in various parts of the country.

The Rwanda Meteorology Agency has warned that several parts of Rwanda will experience heavy rains in the first 10 days of May, and the government has urged residents living in high-risk zones to relocate to safer areas.

In Burundi, locals are still struggling to cope with flooding after months of heavy rains, with hundreds of thousands being displaced and many homes and schools damaged.

The relentless rain has resulted in the level of water in Lake Tanganyika rising considerably, invading the port of Bujumbura, Burundi’s economic capital, and disrupting business there and elsewhere in the country. The United Nations estimates that, since September, over 200,000 people have been displaced by flooding.

Jean-Marie Sabushimike, a disaster management expert and professor of geography at Burundi University, also attributed the flooding to climate changes that are affecting Burundi, like other countries in the region.

Uganda is also struggling with increasing water levels in Lake Victoria caused by relentless rains. The rising water levels have submerged markets, homes, roads, and boreholes, among others, in the communities along the lake-shore, leaving thousands of vendors and families stranded.

In February 2024, floods were reported in the Bukedea district and heavy storms in Lira, Kyotera, Kalangala, and Mbale. The impacts of the hazards affected 3,935 individuals, and 1,525 people from 271 households were internally displaced.

Weather experts are calling on regional leaders to undertake drastic measures to mitigate the causes of climate change in the region that have resulted in devastating weather patterns.

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