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NIAS Africa Weekly #90 | Floods in East Africa

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #90 Vol. 2, No.44 
28 November

Heavy rains caused devastating floods in East Africa 
Jerry Franklin A

Extreme and intense rainfall in East Africa caused flash floods in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia killing hundreds of people and affecting the livelihoods of millions. The floods have been attributed to abnormally heavy rainfall.

On 22 November, according to the Kenya Red Cross, the death toll due to floods rose to 71, over 20,000 families fled their homes, hundreds of acres of agriculture were destroyed, and over 1,000 livestock were killed.

On 21 November, the Director of the Somali Disaster Management Agency, Mohamud Moalim Abdullahi, stated that 50 people died in the disaster and 687,235 people were forced to flee their houses following the heavy rains and floods; over 1.5 million people were affected by the floods. 90 per cent of the Belet Weyne population, around 250,000 people, were forced to flee their houses due to flooding.

According to the Somali regional government in Ethiopia, the floods have claimed the lives of over 52 people, forced over 39,985 others to flee their homes and impacted 108,000 more who fear losing their livestock and homes.

Since November, the Juba and Shabelle Rivers in East Africa overflowed due to heavy rains in the highlands of Ethiopia and Somalia. In central Somalia, the floods submerged the surrounding countryside including the town of Belet Weyne. In Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, 130 people have lost their lives due to the floods. 

Previously on 10 November, UN's Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, stated: "Extreme weather linked to the ongoing El Niño risks further driving up humanitarian needs in already-vulnerable communities in Somalia and many other places."

On 21 November, referring to the situation in Somalia, the International Rescue Committee stated: “With above-normal rainfall expected to persist until the end of 2023, this will exacerbate the already grave humanitarian situation, whereby 4.3 million people, a quarter of the population are expected to face crisis-level hunger or worse by the end of 2023.”

Factors contributed to the intense floods in East Africa
In August, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) predicted that the El Niño phenomenon would likely result in unusually heavy rains in eastern Africa during the October–December period. El Niño is a meteorological phenomenon linked to global warming, drought in certain regions and abundant precipitation in others. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are suffering from flash flooding and torrential rains brought on by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). A shift to a predicted positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) worsened the situation. A positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) favours a wet OND in eastern Africa. This is because the western Indian Ocean experiences warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures, while the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean experiences cooler-than-normal temperatures. A positive IOD amplified the El Niño effect in East Africa. Heavy rainfall and flooding in East Africa are linked to these two phenomena.

Over the past four years, climate change has made the drought in the Horn of Africa more severe. The temperature has increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius. The extended drought has led to the deaths of millions of cattle and wiped-out crops. The patterns of rainfall are being impacted by climate change. The two rainy seasons that often occur in countries around the Horn of Africa are the long rains in March, April and May (MAM) and the short rains in October, November and December (OND). Large portions of Eastern Africa have been experiencing prolonged dry conditions since October 2020. The southern region of the Horn of Africa, including southern Somalia, eastern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, experienced rainfall that was below average during both the long rains (March–May) in 2021 and 2022 and the short rains (October–December) in 2020, 2021 and 2022. However, the 2023 OND season saw significantly more rain than normal. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reported that since 1 October, total rainfall for southern and western Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya has quadrupled the average. 

The continuing dire humanitarian situation for the past four years in East Africa
About 15 million people in East Africa struggled with food insecurity even before the floods.  The five failed rainy seasons which resulted in prolonged drought for four years in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, forced millions of people to flee and made food shortages worse. The dry soil caused flash floods, which destroyed houses, killed livestock and displaced millions of people. Crops and vegetables cannot be grown because of the dry soil. Food insecurity throughout the region has worsened due to record-low agricultural output and months of obstructed grain imports brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The adverse effects of the drought and impending hunger are currently affecting over 36 million people in East Africa. Nearly 24 million people currently face severe water shortages because of prolonged drought. According to current estimates, severe acute malnutrition affects nearly two million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, who need immediate medical attention.

Government responses to the flood
In response to the floods, humanitarian organisations are collaborating with the Kenyan government and have provided food assistance to about 950,000 people in the affected region. According to Kenyan Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua, the government will step up its cooperation with counties and humanitarian partners. To help with rescue efforts and the distribution of relief supplies, the Kenyan government dispatched alert teams from the Kenya Coast Guard, National Police Service, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Kenya Wildlife Service. The displaced people were given temporary residences at schools and social halls.

In Somalia, the government declared a state of emergency following the flood. The government authorities and humanitarian organisations have provided food, cash, water, sanitary facilities and other necessities to at least 679,400 people in Somalia who were affected by the flood. 

Challenges faced by the government in East Africa to mitigate the effect of the floods
Governments in East African countries have limited resources making it difficult for them to invest in flood mitigation strategies including constructing resilient infrastructure and putting sustainable land management techniques into place. Insufficient funding for early warning systems limits the capacity to promptly notify populations about the risk, impeding evacuation attempts and raising the possibility of property and human casualties. In the Somali region, numerous flood-affected areas are still difficult to access due to damaged roads and bridges.

Although East African countries have comprehensive plans to address climate change, funding is still a major obstacle in putting the commitments into practice. Countries have committed 15 per cent of the total funds required to implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Coordinated flood management is made more difficult by shared river basins and transboundary rivers, which call for cooperation between adjacent countries that are hampered by disparities in objectives and policies.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the current El Nino, which began to develop in July, is predicted to continue influencing weather patterns and causing a further increase in global temperatures until April 2024 in East Africa. The heavy rains in the Horn of Africa are expected to worsen the situation which poses significant challenges to the government in East Africa to mitigate the crisis. The floods have sparked a humanitarian crisis that requires immediate attention and action. Nearly 4.3 million people are predicted to experience crisis-level hunger by the end of 2023 due to abnormal rainfall, which is predicted to continue until the end of 2023. This will likely worsen the already dire humanitarian situation.

(Part of this commentary has been originally published as part of the NIAS-IPRI-KAS Conflict Weekly.)

22 November - 27 November
Anu Maria Joseph and Narmatha S

Collaboration with a Canadian company on mineral resource
On 26 November, Arab News reported that a contract was signed between Egypt’s mineral resource authority and Canada’s Lotus Gold Corporation in Marsa Alam on a USD 2.5 million gold exploration project. The deal with the Lotus Gold Corporation, a major player in the global mining industry, is part of the second round of Egypt’s global gold bid giving the firm three sectors covering 525 square meters. This is seen as Egypt’s effort to increase foreign investments and modernise the mining sector. The signing of the contract was overseen by Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El-Molla, and Canadian Ambassador, Louis Dumas. (“Egypt boosts gold sector with $2.5m exploration deal with Lotus Gold Corp,” Arab News, 26 November 2023)

Peace talks with OLA end without a deal
On 22 November, the Ethiopian government stated that the peace talks with the rebel group, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) failed, describing OLA’s approach as “obstructive” and demands as “unrealistic.” The talks were held in the city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. One of the government negotiators, Redwan Hussein, stated that the government “regrets this unfortunate turn of events.” Meanwhile, OLA in response stated that the government was not interested in addressing the “fundamental problems that underlie the county´s seemingly insurmountable security and political challenges.” The OLA has been fighting the federal forces since 2018 over what the group claims is the oppression of the Oromo ethnic group.  (“Ethiopia talks with rebel group OLA end without deal,” BBC, 22 November 2023)

Nearly 50 people die of hunger
On 23 November, BBC reported that more than fifty people died out of hunger in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray and Amhara. Thousands of people fled their homes because of drought. Since 2019, due to climate change, the region has witnessed five failed rainy seasons. Over 4000 cattle died of severe drought. The El Nino effect has worsened in northern Ethiopia, battling drought, while the southern and eastern regions are battling with flash floods. The UN has stopped its humanitarian aid due to allegations of food theft that made the situation worse. (“Hunger kills 50 people in Ethiopia amid drought,” BBC, 23 November)

Joins as eighth member of East African Community trade bloc
On 24 November, Reuters reported that the East African Community trade bloc welcomed Somalia as its eighth member to boost the country’s economy and stability to expand free trade across the region. The EAC common market was set up in 2010 and has around 300 million people from the countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Somalia’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Daud Aweis, stated: “Somalia officially joins the East African Community, reinforcing ties and opening new doors for progress and partnership.” With Somalia being the new member, the bloc’s coastline has stretched over 3000 kilometres holding high potential for offshore resources like oil and gas. Before, only Kenya and Tanzania of EAC had coastlines. The Bloc may witness jitters due to the presence of conflict-prone zones in Somalia caused by the Islamist militants. (“Boost for Somalia as it joins East African trade bloc," BBC, 24 November 2023)

To borrow USD 150 million from China
On 27 November, the Ugandan Ministry of Finance stated that the country is preparing to borrow USD 150 million from China’s Export-Import Bank after the World Bank halted its funding. This deal was made to expand Uganda’s internet facility and infrastructure. The money, the ministry stated, “is to finance the supply, installation, commissioning, and support of the national data transmission backbone infrastructure.” Additionally, to export crude oil to the international market, the country is trying to extend its negotiations with the Chinese Export Credit Agency, SINOSURE. Uganda is also negotiating with the EXIM bank to help them by providing loans to finance the construction of a pipeline. The World Bank, the biggest development lender to Uganda stopped funding in August due to the anti-LGBTQ law. (“Uganda to borrow $150 mln from China's Exim after World Bank halts funding,” Reuters, 27 November 2023)

Motion to end diplomatic ties with Israel
On 22 November, the South African parliament voted for a motion calling to end diplomatic ties with Israel. The motion was passed by 248 votes to 91. The governing party, the African National Congress (ANC) has been critical of Israel’s attacks in Gaza. On 20 November, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the war crimes in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled its ambassador to South Africa “for consultations,” a move it stated as a response to “the latest South African statements.” (“South Africa MPs vote to suspend Israeli ties,” BBC, 22 November)

Nine people killed in gunmen attack
On 22 November, BBC Africa reported on a gunmen attack in the town of Bamenyam in the west of Cameroon that killed at least nine people. The attacks were carried out in the French-speaking region of Bamboutos by the separatist militants who campaign for an independent region for the English-speaking community.  Since 2017, the separatist movement has been ongoing with a minority English-speaking community claiming that the government dominated by the French-speaking community has been marginalising them. The conflict has killed more than 6,000 people. (“Gunmen kill nine in Cameroon market attack,” BBC, 22 November)

Incumbent President wins the elections for a third term
On 25 November, BBC Africa reported that Madagascar’s incumbent President, Andry Rajoelina, won the elections for a third term. The country witnessed a disputed election boycotted by the opposition party who claimed that they won’t recognise the election's outcome. Andry secured 59 per cent of the vote against his main opponent Marc Ravalomanana. The presidential candidates called for a poll boycott because of a low voter turnout. The voter turnout was 46 per cent which is the lowest recorded ever in the country. On 16 November, multiple clashes with police resulted in a curfew on the evening of election day. (“Madagascar president re-elected amid boycott,” BBC, 25 November 2023)

Nationwide curfew after attacks on military barracks
On 26 November, a nationwide curfew was announced by President Julius Maada Bio after unknown gunmen fired at the military barracks and detention centres in the capital city of Freetown. Bio stated that “calm has been restored” after they were driven away by the security forces. The political situation in the country has been tense since Bio was re-elected in a disputed election in June. The detention centres and Pademba Road prisons that held more than 2000 prisoners were attacked. Minister of Information, Chernor Bah stated: “The prisoners were overrun and some prisoners were abducted by the assailants while many others were released.” (“Sierra Leone lifts indefinite curfew," BBC, 26 November 2023)

Alliance with the EU to tackle extremism
On 24 November, the EU and Morocco launched an initiative against extremism through educational means. It is a two-year initiative aimed at countering and preventing violent extremism. In the 21st Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita stated that the program's primary goal is to “provide individuals with access to education and to help them develop the capacities necessary to challenge extremist narratives and promote peace.” The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Borell asserted that “the program aims to help develop societies that are more tolerant and resilient against terrorism and violent extremism.” ("Morocco and EU Launch Alliance to Tackle Extremism through Education, Morocco World News," 24 November 2023)

Nigeria: 100 people abducted in Zamfara
On 26 November, BBC Africa reported that at least 100 people were abducted by bandits in the state of Zamfara in northwest Nigeria. Gunmen who came on motorcycles stormed the village. A witness told BBC that the residents were kidnapped after they failed to pay the tax imposed by the gunmen. One of the villagers told BBC that the leader of the armed gang, Damana, controls the majority of the region in the absence of state security forces. Currently, Nigeria faces multifaceted security issues including the jihadist insurgency in the north, farmer-herder clashes and separatist insurgency in the southeast and bandits in the Niger Delta. (“Dozens kidnapped by motorcycle 'bandits' in north Nigeria,” BBC, 26 November 2023)

About the authors
Jerry Franklin A is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS. Narmatha S is a Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Madras.

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