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More than 2 million people displaced in Horn of Africa floods

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Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Taken on February 14, 2022 – Thirty-year-old Bulley Hassanow Alliyow, right, gives water to her child at Tawkal 2 Dinsoor camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Baidoa, Somalia, on February 14. The torrential rains and flooding in recent weeks in the Horn of Africa countries has exacerbated a deep humanitarian crisis in Somalia, one of the poorest countries on the planet that has also been battling a bloody Islamist insurgency for the past decade and a half, as well as a devastating drought since 2020, the writer says.

By AFP and Xinhua

More than two million people across the Horn of Africa have been forced from their homes by torrential rains and floods, according to an AFP tally compiled this week from government and UN figures.

Almost 300 people have also lost their lives in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia as the region grapples with its latest devastating climate disaster.

The heavy rainfall, linked to the El Niño weather pattern, has struck just as the region is emerging from the worst drought in 40 years that drove millions into hunger.

“It’s a dire situation,” the charity Action Against Hunger said in a statement late Wednesday, on the eve of the start of the COP 28 climate summit in Dubai.

“Regions that were struggling to recover from the economic and environmental impacts of prolonged drought are now doubly burdened with flooding,” it said.

The Horn of Africa is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change – even though the Continent’s contribution to global carbon emissions is a fraction of the total.

Extreme weather events have been occurring with increased frequency and intensity. The latest disaster has exacerbated a deep humanitarian crisis in Somalia, one of the poorest countries on the planet that has also been battling a bloody Islamist insurgency for the past decade and a half.

Flooding had cost the lives of more than 100 people, and displaced more than a million, said UN and Somali officials in a joint statement this week.

Authorities in Mogadishu declared a state of emergency earlier this month over what the UN has described as “once in a century” flooding, and have warned against the proliferation of disease. The deluge had engulfed homes and farmland and left many communities marooned, with roads and bridges damaged and hospitals and schools closed.

An estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five were facing acute malnutrition over the period between August this year and July next year, the joint UN-Somali statement warned.

“Recurrent climate shocks, widespread insecurity and rampant poverty have pushed the people of Somalia to breaking point,” UN envoy George Conway said.

The statement said flood waters could swamp more than 1.5 million hectares of farmland in December.

In a move that could help alleviate the situation for some, the Somalia government said it had received 25 000 tons of grain from Russia that would be distributed urgently to flood-affected people, with another 25,000 tonnes expected later in December.

While the country narrowly avoided famine, thanks to humanitarian aid, the UN’s World Food Programme warned earlier this month that a quarter of its population – 4.3 million people – were forecast to face crisis-level hunger by the end of the year.

In neighbouring Kenya, the interior ministry said on Thursday that the death toll from the flood disaster had risen to 136, with more than 460 000 people displaced.

Another 57 people had perished in Ethiopia and more than 600,000 had been displaced, said the UN’s humanitarian response agency OCHA.

In one of the hardest hit areas, the Somali region in eastern Ethiopia, cholera has claimed the lives of at least 23 people, with a total of 772 confirmed cases, Save the Children said on Thursday.

“The cholera outbreak in Ethiopia and across the Horn of Africa could spiral out of control if swift action isn’t taken by government and donors to provide clean drinking water and sanitation facilities for communities forced out of their homes by floodwaters,” it warned.

UN climate talks

Meanwhile, 50 scientists and more than 2,000 youth from 30 African countries have called for a speedy transition from hydrocarbons to renewable energy in order to enhance the continent’s response to the climate crisis.

Africa’s green and resilient future will only be secured once countries phase out fossil fuels responsible for planetary warming, said the scientists and youthful green campaigners in a letter released in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital this week.

In an open letter to African leaders attending the UN climate summit in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates for two weeks, the scientists decried a new scramble for oil, gas and coal on the Continent, which they said could slow down the green transition.

Corneille Ewango Ekokinya, a professor at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that a halt on new investments in fossil fuels was imperative to enhance Africa’s response to climate emergencies.

“We are witnessing new fossil fuel investments that are incompatible with the Paris Agreement and its 1.5°C warming limit,” Ekokinya said.

He said that transforming Africa’s energy systems to make them greener, resilient and inclusive will be crucial in curbing runaway greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for exacerbating climatic shocks such as droughts, floods and heatwaves.

The African Group of Negotiators, an alliance of African member states, will be lobbying for increased financing and technology transfer from major powers during the UN climate talks to help the continent adapt to climate change.

In addition, the negotiators will advocate for the realisation of the loss and damage fund, considered crucial in aiding communities at the forefront of the climate crisis to reconstruct their livelihoods and ecosystems.

Ekokinya said that major emitters in the industrialised northern regions and multinational oil corporations have an obligation to replenish the adaptation financing pool allocated for African communities experiencing the worst impacts of climate disasters.

The African scientists and youth said that the Continent should proceed cautiously with technologies promoted by the fossil fuel industry, including carbon capture and storage, due to uncertainties about their effectiveness in providing lasting solutions to atmospheric warming.

In other news at the summit, France and Kenya will launch a coalition of countries in favour of creating an international tax within two years that would raise billions of dollars for developing countries most exposed to climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the COP 28 climate conference that his country, Kenya, Barbados and “several others” were starting an “international taskforce” which will deliver its conclusions at next year’s G20 summit in Rio. They plan to enact the tax at the COP 30 to be held in Brazil in 2025. “It’s a necessity if we want a real result because we need to raise more money to finance our fight against inequalities and for the climate,” Macron said. – AFP and Xinhua