a Kenyan man walks by an SUV tossed about by floodwaters

A man walks by a vehicle damaged by torrential rains and flooding in the village of Kamuchiri, near Mai Mahiu, Kenya on April 29, 2024.

(Photo: Luis Tato/AFP via Getty Images)

Extreme Flooding Creates Nearly Quarter-Million New East African Climate Refugees

"The ongoing floods in East Africa are the present and future if we don't accelerate the energy transition to renewables," said one African climate campaigner.

The United Nations migration agency warned Wednesday that extreme flooding caused by weeks of torrential rain has triggered widespread displacement in half a dozen East African countries, with hundreds of thousands of people affected and more than 200,000 displaced over the past five days alone.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that more than 637,000 people in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania have been affected and at least 234,000 people have been displaced as "torrential rains have unleashed a catastrophic series of events, including flooding, mudslides, and severe damage to vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and dams."

"These disasters have not only claimed numerous lives but have also escalated the suffering of the affected populations and heightened the risk of waterborne diseases," IOM added.

At least 238 people have died in Kenya alone, with many more injured. Kenyan President William Ruto has declared a day of mourning on Friday.

"No corner of our country has been spared from this havoc," Ruto said in a May 3 address to his nation. "Sadly, we have not seen the last of this perilous period as this situation is expected to escalate."

While Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions—the lowest share on the planet—the continent is suffering disproportionately during the worsening planetary emergency, with 17 of the 20 countries most threatened by global heating located on the continent of nearly 1.5 billion people.

East Africa and the Horn of Africa are particularly affected. Yet fossil fuel projects including the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)—which, if completed, will transport up to 230,000 barrels a day of crude oil nearly 900 miles from fields in the Lake Albert region of western Uganda to the Tanzanian port city of Tanga on the Indian Ocean—continue apace.

Meanwhile, activists who oppose projects like EACOP face persecution and even arrest.

"The unprecedented and devastating flooding has unveiled the harsh realities of climate change, claiming lives and displacing communities," IOM East and Horn of Africa Regional Director Rana Jaber said in a statement. "As these individuals face the daunting task of rebuilding, their vulnerability only deepens."

"In this critical moment even as IOM responds, the call remains urgent for sustainable efforts to address human mobility spurred by a changing climate," Jaber added.

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