East Africa Floods Persist, Killing at Least 250

Jan Wesner Childs
Published: December 3, 2019

Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rainfall have killed at least 250 people in recent months in East Africa, adding to a weather-fueled crisis that has impacted some 2.5 million people in the region.

Rainfall from October to mid-November was as much as 300% above average across the Horn of Africa, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The areas hit hardest include parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, where most of the deaths have occurred.

In some areas, the floods came on the heels of a drought that wiped out crops and livestock and left more than 50 million people facing a food shortage.

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John Roche, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in East Africa, told Earther that the situation shows the region's vulnerability to climate change.

"It’s a bit unprecedented that it’s affecting such a large part of the African continent," said Roche.

"It’s not a question of whether we’re waiting for the effects of climate change. It’s happening."

A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, meaning more rain is likely to fall.

More directly, the excessive rainfall in Africa is being driven by a phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman said.

"This is basically the Indian Ocean's version of El Niño, measuring the difference in water temperatures between the western Indian Ocean near Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean south of Indonesia," he explained.

In October, water temperatures spiked off East Africa, sending the IOD to its third-highest value on record, behind only 1994 and 1997, according to Michael Ventrice, atmospheric scientist at The Weather Company, an IBM Business. That positive IOD leads to more evaporation off the warmer ocean water, which turns into rain.

Here's a look at the worst impacts so far from the floods in Africa:

Somalia

More than 580,000 people have been displaced by the flooding in Somalia, according to the most recent statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Officials have said at least 22 died in flooding there in October, the Associated Press reported.

"I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help, but I could only fight for the survival of my family," Ahmed Sabrie, a father of four, told the AP, recalling a flash flood that hit the town of Beledweyne.

His family made it out of their home, and then waited 10 hours for a rescue boat, watching their possessions wash away.

A tropical cyclone making its way toward Somalia could cause localized flash flooding in other parts of the country later this week.

Kenya

At least 120 people have died in flooding and landslides in Kenya, according to the AP. More than half of those deaths occurred late last month when heavy rainfall hit West Pokot County.

The flooding has damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure, hampering access to food, education and health care, UNOCHA said.

"Life here is terrible because we don’t have money, because if someone had their money in the house, it was all swept away by the floods," one survivor, Cherish Limansin, told the AP. "It’s only poverty staring at us here. We wake up with nothing."

Sudan and South Sudan

Floods have destroyed more than 45,000 homes and affected more than 360,000 people in Sudan this year, according to UNOCHA.

Rains and stagnant water led to outbreaks of diseases, including cholera and dengue fever.

Flooding has plagued South Sudan since July, devastating large areas of the country. Some 420,000 people are estimated to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Aid groups have been unable to reach some people in a disputed area along the border between the two countries.

Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, an estimated 570,000 people have been affected by the floods, and more than 202,000 have been displaced.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.