East Africa: Red Cross raises the alarm over ‘triple menace’ of floods, COVID and locusts

East Africa: Red Cross raises the alarm over ‘triple menace’ of floods, COVID and locusts
22 May 2020

(This story is an IFRC press release issued in Nairobi and Geneva on Wednesday, slightly edited here for time references. Red Cross Red Crescent Kampala-based camera and drone operator Denis Onyodi’s coverage of the floods in western Uganda and the Ugandan Red Cross response is available for download at the IFRC Newsroom.)

A series of mutually exacerbating disasters is unfolding in East Africa, on a scale rarely seen in decades, the IFRC warned Wednesday.

Ongoing heavy rain – which has killed nearly 300 and displaced about 500,000 people – has slowed down operations aimed at controlling the worst locust crisis in decades and increased the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Dr Simon Missiri, IFRC Regional Director for Africa, said: “The ongoing flooding crisis is exacerbating other threats caused by COVID-19 and the invasion of locusts.

“Travel and movement restrictions meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19 are hampering efforts to combat swarms of locusts that are ravaging crops.

“Flooding is also a ‘threat amplifier’ with regards to the spread of COVID-19 as it makes it hard to implement preventive measures.”

‘Multiplier effect’

Flooding has left thousands of people homeless, many of them now seeking shelter in temporary accommodation centres where it is not easy, or not possible at all, to observe physical distancing.

As a result, thousands are now at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 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 COVID-19 continue to severely affect the coping capacity of many families in the region,” added Dr Missiri.

“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.”

‘Flood control’

Red Cross teams in the affected countries are rushing to respond to multi-faceted and overlapping crises.

To respond to flooding, COVID-19 and locusts, the IFRC has provided over 7 million Swiss francs to Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in East and Horn of Africa.

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

A Ugandan Red Cross distribution of emergency relief in Kasese last week, one of the areas worst-affected by unusually heavy seasonal rain and flash floods. As elsewhere, the humanitarian response on the ground in East Africa is made more complicated and time-consuming by COVID precautions. (Photo: Denis Onyodi/URCS-IFRC-Climate Centre)