A couple of weeks ago, both humans and animals in parts of East Africa were facing death from starvation occasioned by a prolonged drought.
Then the rains came and what should have been a blessing turned into a nightmare.
Cities in the region, in particular, were hit hard by flooding caused by many factors among them poor urban planning and destructive human activities.
About 25 million people in the region will need food aid by May, and aid agencies say children in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia will be the worst hit.
A recent report by Nature Climate Change estimates that flood damages for the globe’s 136 coastal cities could rise to $1 trillion annually by 2050 if preventive measures are not put in place.
Tanzania quantifies damage caused by floods to be about $2 billion annually, and experts say that in the absence of massive investment in proper drainage and solid waste management this will only get higher.
Nairobi was this week submerged, disrupting transport and economic activities, and the situation has not been different in the other cities in the region.
The environment is fighting back after decades of wanton destruction amid climate change. Stripped of forest cover and suffering the effects of drought, landslides and flash floods are now common.
The region’s major rivers that sustain millions of lives both up- and downstream have been gradually drying up. Unpredictable and extreme weather patterns in the form of prolonged droughts followed by floods are signs of climate change and environmental degradation.
Encroachment in conservation areas has led to increased human-wildlife conflict. Tanzania lost an estimated 412,000 hectares of forest between 1990 and 2005 due to deforestation for commercial purposes or human settlement.
In Kenya, an estimated 3.4 million people are facing starvation due to reduced water levels in major rivers such as the Tana, Ewaso Nyiro and Nzoia.
In Tanzania, the Ruaha River, a lifeline of hundreds of farmers and wildlife is dying. Uganda’s River Rwizi and Somalia’s River Shabelle are also drying up.
Last year, the international community provided food aid for 3.2 million starving people in Somalia. This year, the United Nations says more than four million people are likely to starve in Somalia if the world does not mobilise food aid worth $4 million.
Meanwhile rising poverty levels have pushed people in the region to unsustainable use of resources such as forests and water. This is compounded by unpredictable weather patterns that have affected rain-fed farming.
It is time for action: Governments must take drastic measures to avoid outright disaster.
The indiscriminate destruction of forests and the mushrooming of unplanned urban developments must be reined in. Other countries in the region could borrow a leaf from Rwanda, which has increased its forest cover by about 27 per cent through strict government measures and communal tree planting.