In recent months, unpredictable, intense floods have washed across parts of Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and Tanzania, ruining homes and livelihoods as people and governments try to battle a global pandemic.
As the world battles a pandemic, large swaths of the African continent have been —literally — submerged by floods.
Since March, this crisis has left more than 400 people dead in East Africa. A separate round of flooding has hit West Africa’s Sahel region.
In Uganda, Catholic Relief services estimates that as many as 580,000 people are affected.
Country director Niek de Goeij says "It's kind of affecting all kinds of people. You know, in Kampala, our capital city, it affects people who have nice houses on the lakeshore. But if you are in the Mount Elgon area, on the border with Kenya; or you're in the Kasese area, on the border with the D.R. Congo, and you’re a smallholder farmer normally benefits from farming on a river bank. And suddenly there’s this raging flash floods that comes down to hills and mountains because of this very intense rainfall — you know, you lose everything. You lose your house, you lose your land. And so it's a very diverse group of people that is affected.”
In the eastern town of Jinja, along the shores of Lake Victoria, radio host and environmental activist John Hillary says flooding doesn’t just destroy homes it ruins the very fabric that holds society together.
“The public hospital, the only public hospital in the Chilembwe region, was completely destroyed. So people as a result of the floods got sick. But they could not get anywhere else to go to because the hospital had been destroyed,” he said.
De Goeij says heavy rainfall is normal in East Africa — what isn’t, he says, is their frequency and intensity. And, he says, the pandemic makes it harder for groups like his to respond.
“It's like a triple crisis in Uganda, right? We have the locusts, we have all the floods. And then, on top of everything else, we have COVID-19. And so it's been, for the affected people, it’s been an especially hard year, you know, to be on a lockdown and be affected by floods, and then because of the lockdown, accessing the support and the relief that that they're entitled to,” he said.
Hillary, who speaks often about climate change on his radio show, says that to him and other activists, this is personal.
“My mom is a gardener. My grandparents, and many people in my family, are farmers. That's what I've known," he said. "Growing up, I always went with my mom to the garden to dig, and we ate food from the gardens. Over time, we have noticed that, because of what I think is negligence, we have been involved in practices that have completely destroyed our rain cycle, our climate is deteriorating every other day. I'm only 26. I have seen over time my world deteriorating. I don't want to see the same for my children.”
This, he says, is a living nightmare. This is his home, and he wants future generations to see its beauty, too.