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Deadly Floods Menace Southeast African Nations

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Is it weird to be mad at water? How can I be angry at an element so fundamental to life on our planet? But after reading about the devastating flooding that has inundated large parts of Malawi, killed 44 in Mozambique, and severely damaged homes and farms in Madagascar, I am mad! Mother Nature - how could you wreak such massive havoc?

In the wake of Davos, the US State of the Union, and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, media coverage on the flooding in southeastern Africa has been thin, despite the region being rocked over the past two weeks by cyclones and heavy rainfall (this BBC video will show you the raw power of the water, and the some of the 40,000 Malawians displaced). The torrential downpours are expected to continue, with more storms forecast in Malawi and Mozambique, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Wikipedia Commons

When thinking about natural disasters, I tend to take a very macro approach to the devastation - such as considering the complications of aid distribution in nations with weak infrastructure. And while it’s good to think broadly when considering catastrophes, it’s also important to focus on how everyday aspects of life are affected by geohazards.

It’s not simply enough to look at the death tolls, but rather, imagine the compounding problems that nations have to deal with when enduring flooding. For instance, within Mozambique, 11,000 are currently without power; thousands of acres of land in Madagascar are swamped; and in Malawi, a deeply impoverished country where 60 percent of the population is living on less than US $1.25 a day, the flooding is a further setback for hundreds of thousands of people who were just scraping by as it was. 

Image via Wikipedia Commons

I began thinking of the enormous ways that flooding could impact daily life, beyond the obvious loss of shelter.

1. Thirst:

It’s ironic that people go thirsty during floods, but with water contamination, a clean glass of H2O is difficult to come by. And this is a problem as clean water is so important for health. During floods, people are threatened by thirst and dehydration, because even though water may be present, it isn’t safe to drink.

2. Inability to get medical aid:

During natural disasters, such as the current flooding in southeastern Africa where thousands of people are trapped in remote and flooded areas, the sick are cut off from medical care. Not only have hospitals been impacted or destroyed in Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar, but damaged roads and poor travelling conditions complicate access to medical care. And think a step further. Even when hospitals are available to flood victims in need, that huge surge of patients means people who need routine care or serious but non-flood related treatment, can be squeezed out, creating a harmful knock-on effect for the community.

3. Threat of disease:

Not only is medical care difficult to obtain, but individuals stranded in cramped emergency shelters are at risk of infectious diseases. Contaminated water caused by flooding is also a carrier of disease - such as cholera. Within Malawi, the recent deluge has caused fear of an outbreak, and public health officials are warning that without increased aid, the disease may spread unabated.

4. No bathrooms:

Just like houses, schools, and crops, toilets get destroyed in the flood too. And it may sound gross, but it’s a reality - without access to a bathroom, when nature calls, ‘business’ is taken outside, leading to concerns over sanitation. Further, when sewer systems and toilets flood, poop and other bodily fluids float into the open.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

5. Education:

Despite my personal love of the occasional canceled workday/school day due to snow storms, clearing a natural disaster’s impact on the educational system of a country without strong infrastructure is entirely different. In Malawi, the recent flooding has caused the destruction of 400 schools, meaning A LOT of children are affected, and won’t be able to return to their educations until money is available for rebuilding. Given the scope of the disaster within southeastern Africa, and the urgency of providing displaced individuals with food and shelter, school infrastructure could remain disrupted for a long time, impacting children’s learning over many months or even longer.

6. Destruction of infrastructure and aid distribution:

Money and emergency teams are being sent from Japan, Canada, and South Africa to Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar, but additional resources are needed. A report by the Nations World Food Programme estimates 370,000 people require urgent food and relief assistance. But the shortage of infrastructure and roads in the country is further complicating an already tragic situation.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

7. Impact of crops and farming:

Water from flooding has washed away crops and destroyed thousands of acres of land in the affected southeast African nations. The ruined farmland doesn’t only have implications now, but will impact future crop yield, as land will take time to recover and farmers will need time and money to replace seed, animals, and equipment. The economic setback could take years to undo - or leave some unable to ever truly recover.

8. Mental Health:

The psychological consequences are often ignored during natural disasters, but it’s important to consider the emotional effects that people experience during the trauma of losing homes, loved ones, and their ways of life. Mental health is one of the most ignored aspects of healthcare, and particularly in African nations, conventional mental health services are not readily available in good times - let alone after disasters.

Global warming is increasing the incidence of natural calamities across the world, and while it’s important for nations to develop disaster response plans, it’s also important for global citizens to think about the effects these events have on the lives of individuals. Aid, infrastructure, and disease are all major things to consider, but it’s critical to consider the more nuanced aspects of disasters and how individuals lives are uprooted, not just in one way, but many ways.

When reading about horrible events, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, but I try to focus on the resiliency of nations and individuals. Call me a Pollyanna, but by learning, supporting, and keeping awareness of world events fresh, all people can come together to support one another for a brighter, less rainy, tomorrow.


Kathleen Ebbitt