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From drought to flood: East Africa hardest hit by climate change

(Bloomberg) — East Africa is bracing for more flooding, as torrential rains after years of drought serve as a reminder of the threat created by climate change.

Tropical Storm Hidaya is expected to make landfall this weekend, worsening the deluge that has already killed hundreds of people and devastated crops and livestock.

Hidaya formed off the coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean, according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center. While the system will likely weaken as it approaches the coast, it could dump even more rain once it reaches land.

The death toll from the flood now stands at 210 in Kenya, 155 in Tanzania and 29 fatalities in Burundi.

“The current unprecedented flood crisis our country is experiencing, as well as the recent devastating drought our country faced (the worst in 40 years, after five consecutive failed rains) is a direct consequence of our failure to protect our environment. environment,” said the President. William Ruto said in a televised speech on Friday. “Our country will remain in this cyclical crisis until we face the existential threat of climate change.”

Africa has suffered a heavy price from climate change, despite having contributed relatively little to the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. While it takes time to assess the impact of climate change on heavier rainfall, scientists have found that warmer air holds more water.

A study of the rain that flooded Dubai earlier this year found that global warming made it up to 40% more intense. The same research group also found that climate change exacerbated the deadly floods that hit West Africa in 2022.

That year, East Africa suffered its worst drought in four decades, fueling food price inflation and stoking a cost-of-living crisis that sparked protests in Kenya and widespread hardship in a region already struggling with challenges such as conflict. and extreme poverty.

“Climate change is exacerbating these challenges with significant impacts on livelihoods and food availability,” according to the Working Group on Food Security and Nutrition, a regional platform co-chaired by the IGAD Center for Climate Prediction and Applications. , based in Kenya, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. of the United Nations.

Kenya usually receives seasonal rains from March to May, but the rains have been heavy this year, worsened by the El Niño weather phenomenon. These rains will persist, increasing in both duration and intensity, for the rest of this month and could extend into June, Ruto said.

“No corner of our country has been spared from these ravages,” he said. “Sadly, we have not seen the last of this dangerous period as the situation is expected to worsen.”

Even after the floods subside, East Africans will continue to feel the effects of rising food prices. According to FAO, large areas of cropland have been destroyed and livestock killed. The rains have also damaged roads and bridges, hampering the movement of people, fuel and food, which will further increase costs.

Kenya’s inflation cooled to 5% year-on-year in April compared to 5.7% the previous month as energy and food prices eased, but the floods put that at risk.

“While a bumper harvest season has helped replenish food stocks in Kenya, recent rains could lead to a rise in domestic food prices,” Oxford Economics’ Shani Smit-Lengton wrote in a note to clients. “In addition, since Kenya is in its main planting season (mid-March to late May), heavy rains could wash away seeds and damage agricultural land.”

FAO data shows that 35 million people need food assistance across the region, worsening food insecurity.

At the same time, malaria and other waterborne diseases are likely to increase. Africa already bears the heaviest burden of the disease, accounting for 95% of reported malaria deaths at 608,000 in 2022, according to the World Health Organization.

There is only one silver lining: Rising water levels are expected to boost cheaper hydroelectric power generation and replenish groundwater reserves for geothermal energy production.

For the first time in its history, Tanzania has recorded an energy surplus, helped by increased generation from hydroelectric plants, Energy Minister Doto Biteko told Parliament.

–With help from Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala and Sharon Chen.

(Updates with Kenyan President’s comments from fifth paragraph.)

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