From drought to floods: Climate-related health emergencies are peaking in Horn of Africa, says WHO

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(Photo: Alaister Russell/Gallo Images)
(Photo: Alaister Russell/Gallo Images)
  • Most of the region is experiencing the worst drought in at least 40 years.
  • Infectious diseases account for more than 80% of acute public health events.
  • South Sudan is experiencing flooding for the fourth year in a row, with 40% of the country under water.

According to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) analysis, the number of reported disease outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies in the greater Horn of Africa have reached an all-time high this century.

Most of the region is experiencing the worst drought in at least 40 years, with an unprecedented fifth rainy season failure now expected, while other areas are experiencing flooding and conflict.

As such, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said: "It is critical that world leaders reach an agreement on stemming the rise in temperatures at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) which is very appropriately taking place in Africa. As a continent, we are the least responsible for global warming, but among the first to experience its tragic impact."

COP27 will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November.

The WHO report covered Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

These countries recorded 39 reported outbreaks, flooding, and other acute public health events between 1 January and 30 October this year.

"This is already the highest annual reported number since 2000, with two months left in the year. Outbreaks of anthrax, measles, cholera, yellow fever, chikungunya, meningitis, and other infectious diseases account for more than 80% of the acute public health events reported, with drought, flooding, and other disasters accounting for 18%," WHO said.

The dire conditions in the greater Horn of Africa were a perfect storm for outbreaks, Moeti said.

She called on world leaders to "put a stop to this exponential rise in misery. Between malnutrition and death, there is often disease".

WHO highlighted that drought is not the only extreme weather event affecting the region. South Sudan is experiencing flooding for the fourth year in a row, with 40% of the country under water. 

Tens of thousands of people continue to be affected by heavy rains and flash floods in neighbouring Sudan. Floods in 15 states have destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, as well as many health facilities, water sources, and latrines. Floods have also affected livestock and a large area of agricultural land, contributing to food insecurity.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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