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Horn of Africa: 600K children affected by devastating floods as torrential rains threaten further havoc

Devastating floods and landslides have affected about 600,000 children across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia so far this year, with the number potentially climbing to as high as 1.5 million by the end of the rains, according to Save the Children analysis.
02 June 2024

The torrential rains, which come after years of drought and have been attributed to both human-induced climate change and the tail end of the naturally occurring El Niño weather pattern, have displaced over 420,000 people with at least 330 killed due to unusually heavy flooding in all three countries.

This has left people facing an increasing risk of hunger and led to a spike in cases of waterborne diseases such as cholera which hit children hardest. Almost 27,000 cases of cholera have been recorded across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia this year, with almost 60% of cases in Somalia among children under five.

The rains are the latest in a series of extreme weather events to hit East Africa. In November, devastating floods led to the deaths of at least 350 people and displaced over 2.3 million. Those floods followed the region’s worst drought in 40 years due to five failed rainy seasons.

On top of the naturally occurring El Niño which is currently winding down after beginning in June last year, human-induced climate change is making these kinds of extreme weather events more frequent and severe.  This year, El Nino has contributed to global warming temperatures, accelerating these climate change impacts, to which the Horn of Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.

Sharif,* 50, an elder at a camp for displaced people in Galkayo, Somalia, said the situation was getting worse every year. People living in the camps fear being washed away and losing their shelters which are made from tree branches and fabric when it floods.

“Previously, [the weather] used to be cold either during the night or the day, but now it’s hot 24/7. The rain comes with strong wind which even destroys trees. When we see rain coming, we get scared for our lives. When the rain starts and it’s dark, everyone is scared for their lives. Mothers hold their babies close to their chest. It’s one of the worst things you can experience.”

Fatima,* 60, and her grandchildren fled their home in central Beledweyne region in Somalia six months ago due to flooding. The family now lives in a camp for displaced people in Galkayo. Fatima’s daughter died two years ago, making her the sole guardian for her six grandchildren.

“I have experienced several floods, but the one late last year was the worst one I have ever seen. Previous ones were manageable, but this one destroyed everything. I don’t have any plan on how I can protect my family in any upcoming floods. We will decide when the next flood comes.”

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International while on a visit to Kenya and Somalia, said:

“The impacts of these floods, linked to both El Niño and climate change, are disastrous for children and threaten their rights. It’s another all-too-frequent example of how the climate crisis disproportionately affects those who have done least to cause it and are least able to withstand its most damaging effects: children.

“Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, home to some 92 million children, are among the world’s most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis. Repeated food shortages, disease outbreaks and weather disasters such as these floods – all made worse by climate change – leave millions of children hungry, homeless, out of school, exposed to protection risks and fearful of the next disaster.  

“Children are bearing the brunt of more extreme weather events in an increasingly unequal world. We need to see much more ambition on child-responsive climate finance from high-income countries and historical emitters that that puts children's distinct needs and vulnerabilities front and centre - recognising that when disaster like these floods strikes, it affects a child's whole world. They must also commit to climate adaptation measures and help build the resilience of communities to climate-related shocks — in both the near and longer term.” 

In Kenya, unrelenting rainfall across much of the country since March has led to flash flooding which has so far killed at least 315 people, including 73 children and displaced over 290,000 people. Flooding forced the closure of schools and has damaged and destroyed roads, farms, bridges, schools and health facilities. Refugees living the Dadaab camps have been displaced once again.

In Somalia, heavy rains and flash floods have affected 226,000 people, two thirds of them children. Almost 39,000 people have been displaced, while thousands of families have lost their livelihoods. Cases and deaths of acute watery diarrhoea and cholera continue to rise.

Across Ethiopia, heavy rains and floods since early April have affected 590,000 people and has caused significant damage to homes, infrastructure and farms, exacerbating the impact of the conflict, drought and ongoing cholera outbreak.

Save the Children has worked in the Horn of Africa for over 70 years and is a national and international leader in humanitarian and development programming in health, nutrition, water hygiene and sanitation, education, child protection and child rights governance. In 2023, Save the Children reached 12.5 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, including more than 6.9 million children.

In the Horn of Africa and across the world, Save the Children is working with governments to find ways to increase funding for climate policies and actions that protect children’s rights.  Save the Children is implementing climate programmes in over 50 countries worldwide and delivering direct climate action – from working with communities to adapt to climate changes impacting them now, to forecasting future emergencies and strengthening communities’ ability to anticipate, adapt, prepare, respond, and recover. 
 
Save the Children hopes that the “expert dialogue” on children and climate change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Bonn Intersessionals next week will lead to a shared, evidence-based understanding of the unique and disproportionate impacts of climate change on children.
 
ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: Joshua Mcdonald on 0478010972 or media.team@savethechildren.org.au.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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