Warning about disaster impact of extreme rainfall across Africa

By staff writers
September 21, 2007

Church and development organisations across Africa say the extreme rainfall experienced by the continent this summer is the worst in decades and is having a devastating impact on the food supply. They are warning that immediate action is needed.

In the east, unusually heavy rain started falling across the Ethiopian and Ugandan highlands in June and in Sudan in July. Southern parts of Sudan were particularly affected due to the high levels of water in the White and Blue Nile rivers which flow from Uganda and Ethiopia respectively.

Christian Aid, the UK-based agency, says it is already responding to the floods in Sudan through partner organisations in Renk. They are providing essential items such as plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and cooking utensils and planning the longer term recovery work for affected families.

In Uganda Samuel Okiror from Christian Aid partner, TEDDO, said: 'The weather conditions are becoming more and more unpredictable. Farmers find it difficult to decide when to plant their seeds as the rains are either not sufficient or consistent.

'This year heavy rains started in July during harvest. Swamps filled up and floods covered most of the crops which were due for harvest. Such rains as this were last recorded in 1961.'

The unusually heavy rainfall also caused problems as the ground was extremely dry from earlier droughts and could not absorb water. The torrential rains have swept away crops and left subsistence farmers totally destitute.

The Budalangi region of Kenya normally floods at this time of the year but the intensity of the rains has meant the dykes have burst forcing at least 20,000 people to flee their homes.

Here again the flooding occurred just before the harvest which has left the residents forced to rely on aid from government and aid agencies.

Local people say the flooding has become more severe in recent years. 'Before we would go to higher places to stay but then the waters used to recede quickly,’ said one resident. 'The rains seem to go on throughout the year nowadays.'

'These extremes of weather are exactly what have been predicted,' said Andrew Pendleton, Christian Aid’s senior climate policy analyst. 'Long dry periods followed by short, torrential rainy spells are creating havoc. Harvests are being destroyed with the result people are no longer able to feed themselves. The situation is only going to get worse unless we take action now.'

West Africa has been severely affected. In Mali, the heavy rains arrived in July with 150 – 200 mm accumulating in a few hours. Homes and crops have been devastated.

Yacouba Kone from Christian Aid’s office in the capitol Bamako said: 'In Bandiagara 20 dams and five bridges have been completely destroyed. The dams are a lifeline for the people of the Doon Plateau where there is a chronic lack of land for agriculture. All the market gardens have been destroyed.

'Many elderly people I spoke to say these are the worst floods in Mali since 1946.'

Mr Kone added that many of the people who had lost their homes were seeking refuge in schools, which are generally more solidly constructed. This has delayed the start of the school year for the children.

Christian Aid partner organisation APH is providing 1,345 people in Bandiagora with clean water, blankets and food.

Christian Aid has conducted risk reduction training with partner organisations in west Africa. In recent years these countries have had to cope with severe drought and locust infestations.

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