'Triple menace' of floods, COVID-19 and locusts threatens East Africa

Residents use a boat to carry their animals and belongings through the waters after their homes were flooded, as River Nzoia burst its banks due to heavy rainfall and the backflow from Lake Victoria, in Budalangi within Busia County, Kenya May 2, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that a series of mutually exacerbating disasters is unfolding in east Africa on a scale rarely seen in decades.

The organization said the ongoing heavy rains that have killed nearly 300 and displaced about 500,000 people have slowed down operations aimed at controlling the worst locust crisis in decades and increased the risk of the spread of coronavirus.

"Travel and movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of coronavirus are hampering efforts to combat swarms of locusts that are ravaging crops. Flooding also is a 'threat amplifier' with regards to the spread of coronavirus, as it makes it hard to implement preventive measures," Doctor Simon Missiri, the federation's regional director for Africa, said.

Missiri said flooding has left thousands of people homeless, many of them now seeking shelter in temporary accommodation centers where it is not easy or not possible to observe physical distancing. As a result, thousands are now at higher risk of contracting coronavirus 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 coronavirus continue to severely affect the coping capacity of many families in the region," Missiri said.

"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 and Red Crescent teams in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda are helping communities to 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. The 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," Dr. Missiri said.

To respond to flooding, coronavirus and locusts, the federation has provided over $7.2 million to Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in eastern Africa.