Already in the midst of one of the worst droughts in a decade, countries in the Horn of Africa are bracing for potentially devastating flooding triggered by El Niño weather patterns, the top United Nations humanitarian official warned today.
Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda are most likely to be hit by mudslides, crop destruction, water-borne diseases and disrupted road networks, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia could also be affected.
“More than 23 million people in pastoral, agricultural and sub-urban communities, as well as internally displaced people and refugees in the region, are reeling from the impact of water and food shortages, pasture scarcity, conflict and insecurity,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.
“While we cannot prevent these climatic shocks, we certainly can mitigate their disastrous effects through forward planning and the right funding from the donor community,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
Meteorologists in the Horn of Africa have forecasted that the region’s annual rainy season – from mid-October through the end of the year – will be more intense than usual due to the recurrence of the El Niño weather phenomenon, caused by a rise in temperature in the Pacific and Indian Oceans similar to those experienced in late 2006.
The disappearance of vegetation as a result of the prolonged drought in much of the region is expected to worsen the effects of flooding.
In Kenya, some 750,000 persons – 150,000 of whom are refugees – could be affected by heavy flooding and mudslides, and in Somalia, some 450,000 persons in the Juba and Shabelle river basins could also bear the strain.
Uganda has drawn up flood contingency and evacuation plans, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) preparing to provide immediate support to 25,000 people, and an estimated 50,000 people in Tanzania could be directly affected if flood patterns mirror those of 2006-2007. Flood affected people in Djibouti could also suffer a deterioration of the ongoing cholera outbreak, as well as other water-borne diseases.
Although the humanitarian community is undertaking flood contingency planning, funding and humanitarian access remain the most significant constraints, stressed OCHA.