News ID: 264761
Published: 1013 GMT January 24, 2020

Floods spark a scramble for survival in East Africa

Floods spark a scramble for survival in East Africa

People stand on debris blocking a highway after River Muruny burst its bank following heavy rains in Parua village, in Kenya’s West Pokot county.

Before the floods hit her village, crumpling buildings, ripping out pathways and submerging swathes of land, Nurto Mohamed Hassan could buy a kilogram of rice for the equivalent of about 70p.

Now the cost is more than £1. This may not seem a lot in isolation but, for people with little money and families to feed, it is a significant rise, the Guardian reported.

“Almost all the foodstuffs, in terms of prices, shot up. It became a big disruption,” said Hassan, who chairs a community group in the village of Sheikh Aweys, in the Bakool region of southwest Somalia.

“People are struggling to survive.”

A series of floods across East Africa has been the latest shock to the region’s food supply, wiping out crops and raising prices in the areas most heavily affected.

The floods, resulting from unusually heavy seasonal rains from August to December, have had a devastating impacts. More than 280 people have reportedly been killed, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and infrastructure across the region has been destroyed, according to the UN.

But people now face a longer-term effect, one that has been snowballing around the region for years: Food insecurity.

The rains have drowned or destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of cropland in Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. They have flooded roads, making it difficult to transport surviving crops, and forced many farmers to abandon their homes and fields.

These countries were already reeling from extended periods of drought in previous years that caused poor harvests and depleted reserves. Some have also had to contend with factors like inflation and conflict.

Hassan said her monthly income of about £75 used to cover all her family’s expenses. Since the floods, however, rising food prices and slowing business in the village have meant her salary barely lasts until the middle of the month.

Hajir Maalim, East Africa director for Action Against Hunger, said 60 percent of Somalis polled by the NGO reported eating less each day because of inflated food prices.

In Kenya, too, prices for staples like maize and beans are high. In comparison with the region’s five-year average, maize prices were up from 14 percent to 41 percent in November, and bean prices up from nine percent to 25 percent, according to data from the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net), a USAID-backed information provider.

And maize “prices are higher now than they were in November,” said JB Ohaga, communications officer at the One Acre Fund.

“And we expect them to go even higher as a result of the river flooding.”

Even countries that weren’t hit as hard by floods and rains, such as Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, are facing higher prices. FEWS NET reported in November that “the regional maize market is expected to be tight and prices will remain high.”

Higher prices are also impacting humanitarian groups that buy in bulk to feed vulnerable people, like those who have been internally displaced.

While the floods have weakened the purchasing power of aid groups, they have increased the number of people in need of their support.

Although in some areas the floods have actually revitalized grazing land, according to FEWS NET’s decision support adviser Vanessa Roy, large areas of South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have nonetheless reached a “crisis” level of food insecurity, meaning they require immediate humanitarian assistance. The situation is expected to worsen in South Sudan through until May, while improving in the other countries.

Farmers are among those who have had to abandon their homes, and if they don’t come back their land could go uncultivated in future seasons, reducing production capacity.

“What we’ve seen over many years in Somalia is, once a population gets displaced, there’s little incentive to return,” Maalim said. “[The floods are] emptying the breadbasket region of people.”

Each time disaster hits, it gets harder to recover. In Somalia, “even people who had capacity to withstand previous shocks have now been impacted by the floods,” Maalim said.

Hassan leads the Baeqaaqo village savings and loan association group, which allows people to pool a portion of their monthly income. These savings can then be used as an emergency fund, for individuals to take out a loan in case of a personal crisis.

But after the floods destroyed infrastructure, houses and farms in the village, Hassan said there’s now concern that everyone in the group will need a loan — something the savings couldn’t support.

In Kenya, farmers have warned of a likely maize shortage in 2020, after only harvesting 33 million bags the grain last year compared with the usual 43 million.

“Some farmers are purchasing maize, because they didn’t have enough for food security for themselves,” said Isaiah Mboya Sakasa, a farmer and field officer for the One Acre Fund in Kakamega, west Kenya.

The One Acre Fund works with farmers to practice “climate-smart agriculture”, using techniques like predictive weather data to determine when to plant instead of relying on traditional knowledge of rain schedules.

Sakasa said they expect an early rainy season in 2020, which would help. But as the past few years have shown, no one can wholly predict the weather.

“If it’s the way we expect, then we think everything will be OK,” Sakasa said.

“But we depend on the rain.”




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