Nairobi/Geneva, 20 May 2020—A series of mutually exacerbating disasters is unfolding in East Africa, on a scale rarely seen in decades, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Ongoing heavy rain—which has killed nearly 300 and displaced about 500,000 people—has slowed down operations aimed at controlling the worst locust crisis in decades and increased the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr Simon Missiri, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said:
“The ongoing flooding crisis is exacerbating other threats caused by COVID-19 and the invasion of locusts. Travel and movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19 are hampering efforts to combat swarms of locusts that are ravaging crops. Flooding is also a ‘threat amplifier’ with regards to the spread of COVID-19 as it makes it hard to implement preventive measures.”
Flooding has left thousands of people homeless, many of them now seeking shelter in temporary accommodation centres where it is not easy or not possible at all to observe physical distancing. As a result, thousands are now at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or waterborne diseases and need emergency food assistance.
“We are facing an unusually complex humanitarian situation. We are worried that the number of people who are hungry and sick will increase in the coming weeks as flooding and COVID-19 continue to severely affect the coping capacity of many families in the region,” added Dr Missiri. “Harsh weather conditions are having a multiplier effect on an already difficult situation and this could potentially lead to worrying levels of food insecurity in the region.”
Red Cross teams in the affected countries are rushing to respond to multi-faceted and overlapping crises. To respond to flooding, COVID-19 and locusts, the IFRC has provided over 7 million Swiss francs to Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in East and Horn of Africa.
Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are helping communities mitigate the negative impacts of the triple disaster through community awareness and direct food and non-food support. In Kenya, the Red Cross is conducting assessments in 16 counties, using drones and satellite images. Red Cross teams are also airlifting household items to families that have been marooned by floods.
“Flooding is a recurrent phenomenon in the region. To break this cycle, we call upon Governments and partners to invest more in preparedness and flood control methods,” said Dr MISSIRI.