In the past three months, floods have ravaged many African nations including Ghana and Togo in the west, as well as Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, and Kenya in the central and eastern regions. At least 200 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in these countries. Half a million people across the West African region have been hit by the heavy rains in the past 3 months. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed and swathes of crops on which the region depends have been washed away. In Uganda, at least 21 people have died since August, and in Ghana the floods have left about 32 people dead and made 260,000 homeless. The rain, linked to ocean temperature changes, has caught African governments off guard and many of the worst-affected regions are remote from major capitals and thus humanitarian access is difficult.
The Ugandan government declared a state of emergency in the worst flood-affected areas, allowing funds to be diverted directly to the relief effort. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies say flood emergencies in Africa have risen sharply in recent years moving from only five in 2004 to more than 40 so far this year. Among the agencies planning to deal with the aftermath of the flooding is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) which is working with many African governments to assess the impacts of the floods and actual damages to agriculture.
In Ghana, which also is under a state of emergency, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said a field assessment has shown that 260,000 people have been affected. Market prices for local food items have doubled for most commodities and the lack of safe drinking water remains another major concern. Also, the floods have caused misery for children already at risk of hunger and disease. But the response to this major natural disaster is slow and is not receiving much global attention. Major international organizations such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, UNICEF, and World Food Program (WFP), are busy debating the long term consequences of the floods instead of giving enough immediate assistance to the people who have been displaced. Along with the need to prevent and treat possible outbreak of diseases, immediate requirements are shelter and food, as many houses and crops have been washed away.
In Uganda, the US has allegedly made a paltry donation of $500,000; Germany has provided the equivalent of about $700,000 for emergency food aid; Japan has given a cash donation of $100,000; while other organizations have given assistance in the form of clothing and food. The emergency appeal made by the Federation of the Red Cross for Ghana and Togo at first, then extended to Burkina Faso, has received little response. $2.1 million US dollars is expected to be raised in total for about 90,000 people who have been affected by the flood.
US environmental lobby group International Rivers Network (IRN) said climate change, coupled with rapid population growth, deforestation and other forms of land degradation are set to trigger a serious humanitarian crisis in the African continent. The impacts of climate change will range from effects on agriculture (and thus further endangering food security), sea-level rise (and thus accelerating erosion of coastal zones), intensity of natural disasters, species extinction and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
There is a need for adequate preparation by African countries to contain any reoccurrence of severe floods in the future. The daunting problems of conflicts, HIV/AIDS, and poverty that have ravaged the continent have occupied the attention of many African countries in the past three decades. Now is the time to devote adequate attention to issues of climate change and efficient use of natural resources to reduce carbon emissions.
AFJN joins other organizations in calling for more international assistance from the U.S in response to this humanitarian crisis that is occurring in much of Africa.
-Joseph Effiong