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Tropical cyclone threatens to worsen humanitarian crisis in flooded East Africa

Tropical cyclone threatens to worsen humanitarian crisis in flooded East Africa
GENEVA — The World Meteorological Organization warns that Tropical Cyclone Hidaya, which is projected to make landfall in Tanzania and Kenya this weekend, threatens to worsen the humanitarian crisis triggered by torrential rains in these and other heavily flooded countries in East Africa. “Hidaya is the first documented system to have reached tropical cyclone status in this part of the world. We are not talking about Sudan. We are talking about lower and East Africa,” WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis told journalists in Geneva on Friday. “It is historically significant. It is also going to have a very big impact, and specifically on Tanzania, where the ground is already absolutely soddened. Tanzania, which has suffered flooding, is about to get hit with more heavy rains falling ... from this system. “And the moisture in this tropical cyclone will also impact Kenya, where there is also very, very bad flooding,” she said, noting that “climate change was supercharging extreme weather.” El Nino, which sparked heavy rains and severe flooding sweeping East Africa, is waning. Despite this, the WMO says this weather event still carries a big punch and is leading to more heavy rainfall, devastating floods and landslides in the East African region. While casualty figures continue to rise, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports this disaster so far has killed more than 400 people. This includes at least 210 in Kenya, more than 150 in Tanzania and others in Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia. OCHA reports heavy rains and floods in these five countries have affected more than 637,000 people, including 234,000 who are displaced. It says governments and humanitarian agencies are still assessing the damage and destruction of infrastructure, which is extensive. “In terms of economic losses, it is still too early to say. When you look at the images of bridges and roads being swept away, it is going to be immense,” said Nullis. “The loss of livestock, the disruption of agriculture. It is a huge, huge investment.” In an address to his nation Friday, Kenyan President William Ruto outlined a series of measures to deal with this emergency, noting that no corner of the country “has been spared from this havoc.” “Sadly, we have not seen the last of this perilous period, as this situation is expected to escalate,” he said. “Meteorological reports paint a dire picture. The rains will persist, increasing both in duration and intensity for the rest of this month and possibly after.” While all those caught in this disastrous event are suffering immense hardships, the U.N. refugee agency expresses particular concern about the welfare of thousands of refugees and other displaced people “being forced to escape once again for their lives after their homes were washed away.” “In Kenya, nearly 20,000 people in the Dadaab refugee camps, which host over 380,000 refugees, have been displaced due to the rising water levels,” said Olga Sarrado Mur, UNHCR spokesperson. “Many of them are among those who arrived in the past couple of years after severe drought in neighboring Somalia. Some 4,000 people are currently sheltering in six schools with facilities that have been extensively damaged,” she said. She noted that many of the tens of thousands of refugees in Tanzania, Burundi, and other hard-hit countries in the region have had to relocate multiple times as water levels continue to rise. She said many people are struggling to find shelter, to pay the rent, to earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. “Climate change is making many parts of the world, especially in fragile regions like East Africa and the Horn of Africa, increasingly uninhabitable,” said Sarrado Mur. “Storms are more devastating. Wildfires have become commonplace. Floods and droughts are intensifying. Some of these impacts are irreversible and threaten to continue worsening, and displaced people are bearing the brunt of the impact,” she said. The WMO reports early warning systems are critical in saving lives before natural disasters strike. It says these systems are more crucial than ever to protect people from the extreme weather conditions stemming from human-induced climate change. “So, on tropical cyclones, we do have very, very good warnings these days in most parts of the world that enable evacuations to take place,” said Nullis, underscoring that early warning systems enable “what we call anticipatory action, which is sort of prepositioning by humanitarian agencies of relief supplies.” “Thanks to such actions, we have prevented a great loss of life in many regions of the world,” she said. However, UNHCRs Sarrado Mur observed that “many of the preparations resulting from early warnings often do not reach the most vulnerable communities, including refugees or other displaced communities, which often are in areas that are more exposed to these climate hazards.” She emphasized the importance of providing funding to vulnerable peoples and the communities hosting them, “so they can be equipped and be prepared, and so they can adapt to this new situation which is unfortunately the new reality.”

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