African countries face emerging crises due to climate change-related natural disasters

Already reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic and a devastating desert locust infestation in the eastern area of the continent, Africa has suffered another devastating blow with massive flooding throughout the Sahel, the continent’s northwest and north central region.

These floods are yet another tragic manifestation of the growing destruction and chaos brought on by human-caused climate change. According to Climate Central, as human activities have caused global temperatures to rise, higher volumes of water have evaporated and been stored in the atmosphere, leading to more commonly occurring downpours. Downpours such as these are responsible for the mass flooding that just occurred across Africa. These downpours are also responsible for the desert locust swarms that have plagued the continent, which plunged an estimated 25 million people into food and livelihood insecurity. According to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, heavy rain in desert areas leads to vegetation growth, therefore creating ideal breeding conditions for the pests.

Most recently, shockingly heavy rainfall in August and September came down in the West and in the Central African nations of Senegal, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana and Mali, among others. However, East African countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia have also been hit hard — proving that the problem is truly continent-wide

These countries are just beginning their work to repair the millions of dollars in damage caused by the floods — and they do so in the middle of displacement crises and with food shortages looming, many of which are also the direct results of these floods.  

In Nigeria, a country of nearly 200 million people, floods destroyed more than 2 million tons of grain, meaning more than a quarter of its projected 2020 to 2021 rice production has been wiped out. Other crops, such as maize, millet and sorghum were also severely impacted. Despite being the second-largest importer of rice in the world, recent government restrictions have led the country to rely more heavily on local crops, in turn causing food prices to rise rapidly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nigeria imported 200,000 fewer tons of rice in 2020 than in 2019. With the supply of locally grown crops down significantly, and the demand still as high as ever, prices are primed to further balloon. This will result in grim prospects for securing adequate food for massive numbers of Nigerians.

Particularly hard hit was Nigeria’s Kebbi state, which produces the most rice in the nation. In Kebbi, at least 32 people have been killed by the floods, thousands of people have been displaced after their homes and towns were leveled, and over 500,000 hectares of farmland — 450,000 of which were for growing rice — have been ravaged. Additionally, a road connecting the state to the neighboring country of Benin has been engulfed by water, cutting neighboring towns on opposite sides of the border off from each other. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari described the catastrophe’s implications in stark terms, saying it “couldn’t have come at a worse time for our farmers and other Nigerians who looked forward to a bumper harvest this year in order to reduce the current astronomical rise in the costs of food items in the markets.”

In Niger, overflow from the Niger River in late August killed 45 people and displaced more than 226,000 residents in just one week. In all of 2019, floods killed an estimated 57 Nigerians and displaced around 132,500 people. Numerous rice fields were swamped and countless mud huts leveled. Then, in early September, flooding broke a Niger River levee in the country’s capital of Niamey, leaving many in the city with no choice but to evacuate. Meanwhile, in neighboring Burkina Faso, a state of national disaster was declared following days of floods in early September that killed 13 people.

Elsewhere, Senegal was hit with widespread flash floods on September 7 after nearly five inches of rain fell in just seven hours — an amount equivalent to the country’s average annual rainfall. Six children reportedly died as a direct result of the disaster, while a hospital near the nation’s capital of Dakar was hit by a deluge of debris and flood water. “More than five communities use this health centre and we are desperate,” said one resident. Additionally, in The Gambia — which is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal — over 20,000 people were impacted by flash floods and windstorms, while “farmlands, food and seeds stores and school buildings were partially or severely damaged” in parts of the nation.

Meanwhile, eastern nations in the Sahel region, which have borne the brunt of this year’s Biblical locust swarms, were also slammed by recent floods. In Ethiopia, more than 150,000 people were displaced in August due to torrential rains that caused flooding, dam overflows, and landslides. Sudan declared a three-month national state of emergency after floods demolished an estimated 100,000 homes and killed over 100 citizens. Furthermore, flooding damaged water sources, schools, and hospitals throughout the country. In South Sudan, floods caused by the White Nile overflowing killed more than 100 people, displaced more than 85,000 people, destroyed crops and killed livestock. NKC African Economics political analyst Zaynab Mohamed bleakly predicted that a, “lack of investment in infrastructure will result in the persistence of food insecurity and vulnerability after flooding, while large numbers of displaced people, and the increased competition for land that will result from land degradation caused by the floods, will contribute to political and conflict risk.”  

Though floods are an annual occurrence in the Sahel, this year’s heavy rainfall has caused fallout on an unprecedented level. These widespread floods, which have displaced over one million people, constitute yet another catastrophe caused by climate change that should serve as a warning for the rest of the world. Mass disasters such as this will only grow more common in the Sahel, and around the world, unless rapid action is taken to reverse climate change’s worst effects.

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