Death and destruction as floods rain havoc across East Africa

Saturday May 16 2020

Debris blocks a highway after River Muruny burst its banks in West Pokot County, western Kenya. Recent floods and landslides have left many dead and displaced. PHOTO | AFP


East Africa continues to suffer the effects of flooding and landslides as more than 481,000 people are currently displaced and over 360 people have died.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned of more rainfall this month.

Already, Lake Victoria, which is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has hit the highest water levels in over 50 years, at 13.45 metres, causing widespread flooding in many areas.

“With the ongoing rains expected to continue, the water levels may rise further, aggravating the challenges of flooding especially on the Kenyan side that has more rivers that drain into Lake Victoria,” said Lake Victoria Basin Commission executive secretary Ali-Said Matano.

Across the region, it is a tale of death, displacement and destruction.

In Uganda, Lake Victoria’s rising water levels have displaced communities living close to the shoreline, and created challenges for the country’s hydropower infrastructure.


Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment Sam Cheptoris attributed the backflow and increased flooding to the emergence of several floating islands that has led to the blockage of River Nile, which is the only outflow of Lake Victoria.

In a statement last week, Mr Cheptoris said the islands will be removed or stopped from moving as soon as they are identified through surveillance.

Sweeping floods in western Uganda killed four people and displaced 5,000 as heavy rains continue to inundate the region, according to Ugandan police.

Isingiro County South member of parliament Alex Byarugaba Bakunda said they have recorded 5,000 people who have been displaced, and called for emergency government support.

In Kenya, hundreds have been killed by floods and about 161,000 displaced.

“More than 237 Kenyans have lost their lives to floods. The rains are still pounding many parts of the country and our dams are filled up,” said Eugene Wamalwa, Kenya’s Devolution Cabinet Secretary, on May 13 after assessing the effects of floods in the country.

Homes and recreation centres built on and near wetlands in Kisumu (Kenya), Mwanza (Tanzania) and in Entebbe (Uganda) are flooded.

In western Kenya, the rivers Nzoia, Lusumu, Yala, Kipsangui, Malakisi, Sio and Malabar, and Lake Naivasha water levels have risen.

“In areas around Lake Naivasha, many people have been displaced, while Budalangi in Kenya has been affected by backflows from Lake Victoria and River Nzoia, which has burst its banks,” said Mr Wamalwa.

In Burundi, around 50,000 people have been affected, most of whom were displaced as Rusizi River burst its banks on April 30, for the second time in two weeks.

Ruined harvest

In Rwanda, an estimated 2,200 households (11,000 people) have been affected by heavy rain this year, and 1,000 hectares of crops—potatoes, maize, bananas, tea and sugar—have been destroyed.

The floods have left at least 70 people dead. Since May 1, floods have severely impacted seven districts—Gakenke, Musanze, Nyabihu, Muganga, Ruhango, Rubavu and Ngororero.

In Tanzania, more than 31,000 people have been affected, including 13,500 displaced.

The Tanzania Red Cross Society and local government authorities have reported floods in Kilimanjaro, Kagera, Katavi, Mara, Manyara, Kigoma and Rukwa regions, with about 4,409 households and 10,540 people affected. Over 752 acres of farms were destroyed.

Lindi and Coast regions were among the first parts of Tanzania hit by floods, with 21 deaths and 1,702 people displaced families early this year.

About 180 houses in Western Tanzania with 1,655 people were affected by flooding water from Lake Tanganyika, government authorities said.

The Zanzibar Commission for Disasters said early this week that six people have died, 200 displaced and some 690 houses damaged on the main island of Unguja and the twin island of Pemba.

In Somalia, torrential rains and riverine floods have inundated at least 27 districts, with Belet Weyne in Hiran region worst-hit.

The recent heavy rains come just after an above-average short-rains season in the region, driven by the Indian Ocean Dipole, which affected at least 3.4 million people across Eastern Africa and caused water bodies across the region to swell.

This month, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Applications Centre predicts heavy rainfall above 200 mm expected in western and northwestern Kenya and along the Ethiopian rift.

Thermal discomfort is expected in south and southeastern Sudan extending into northwestern Ethiopia and northern south Sudan.

Additional reporting by Apolinari Tairo and Victor Raballa.