NAIROBI, Kenya (CWR) – In eastern Africa, unusually heavy and sustained rainfall has led to massive flooding and numerous deaths as large tracks of land where thousands once lived are now under water.
This, in turn, is threatening to trigger a catastrophe in a region with many Catholics and where the Church and Christianity are growing fast.
Catholic bishops in the region have shown great concern over the flooding, which is the result of months of rain. Along with relief agencies such as Caritas, the bishops have called for help for millions of needy people in the region.
The flooding has affected over thirty countries, including parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. Nearly 300 people have died from the floods that have swept across the region since October, with about half of those killed being from Kenya. About 3 million people have been displaced or affected in some way.
Scientists and weather experts say that the heavy rainfall is as a result of a weather phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole. The occurrence involves the heating up of the sea base, leading to increased evaporation that then results in heavy rain.
The rains have resulted in the flooding of streets and farm lands, submerging of whole villages and some towns, and the sweeping away of farm lands. Many displaced members of the various communities have trooped to churches for shelter and aid.
On November 26th, Caritas Kenya launched an urgent appeal for food aid, clothing, medicine, and other non-food items. The appeal followed the death of at least 130 people dead in Kenya because of the raging floods. An estimated 12,000 have since been displaced in Kenya.
In addition to flooding, the rains have triggered deadly mudslides, with lightning strikes and hailstorms also affecting thousands of people in the East African nation.
“The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is appealing to all Christians, partners and people of goodwill to support our emergency response initiative to the flooding in our diocese,” said Archbishop Martin Kivuva, the chairman Caritas Kenya in the appeal also signed by Archbishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Kenyan Church emergency operation is seeking to provide the affected population with core relief items such as mosquito nets, sleeping blankets, kitchen sets, jerrycans, and buckets.
The appeal has also sought Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) interventions, through distribution of sanitary material, soap, and chlorine for water treatment and disinfection. The affected population has been exposed to waterborne diseases and so is also in need of medicines, according to the bishops.
“We kindly request you to support this initiative by donating funds, food and non-food items to save the affected population,” said the bishops.
Flood waters over three feet deep swept away the St. Teresa Pastoral Centre in the Diocese of Lowdar in northern Kenya. It has also damaged farms, and brought down power and telecommunication installations.
“Some houses in the pastoral centre have totally been destroyed. We fear further destruction as the rains continue. I hope they can build a dike to protect the centre and the surrounding villages when the river overflow,” Fr. David Ahiro, a priest in the Lowdar diocese said in an interview with CWR.
At least 17 people have died in the flood in Uganda with another estimated 800 camping in churches and schools. A number are being hosted by relatives.
Catholic churches in Busuru, Kabale, and other locations are providing shelter to people whose houses have been destroyed. Nearly 7000 people have been affected by the flooding in Uganda.
In South Sudan, where the floods have affected about 900,000 people, President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency on October 20th in 32 counties. More than 600,000 in the country are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
In Africa’s newest nation, months of rainfall have left villages submerged, resulting in the displacement of entire communities. Thousands of homes and shelters have also been destroyed and crops that sustain livelihoods wiped out.
“People have nowhere to sleep, children are sick there is no food,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) chief of mission, in a statement.
Sr. Elena Balatti, a comboni missionary based in Malakal Diocese, South Sudan told Vatican Radio that there is much to be done to purchase and distribute tents so people can be in temporary shelters. She also expressed concern about the possible spread of malaria because of the large amounts of stagnant water.
In the neighboring Sudan, about 426,000 have been affected by the floods. Ongoing tensions and conflicts between the two countries have reportedly hampered response to the flood disaster.
Djibouti, another eastern African country, is also struggling with the disaster. The UN estimates that over 150,000 people, including refugees and migrants, in the tiny horn of Africa country are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
Over 547000 in Somalia have also been hit by the floods, according to UN-OCHA.
“The country is already ravaged by drought, which has contributed to the displacement of thousands of people this year. Vulnerable communities have become more dependent on humanitarian aid and find it harder to recover,” said Victor Moses, the Somalia country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Humanitarian agency Trocaire has said that it is providing emergency aid to the affected people in Somalia. It will provide food, water, and mosquito nets to hundreds of families in the affected regions.
At least 570,000 people in Ethiopia are affected by the floods, which began in October. Since early the beginning of this year, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been responding to the immediate needs in the country, while also working to promote peace in the area. An estimated 2.7 million people have been uprooted by floods and violent clashes between two ethnic groups in the Oromia region.
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