Advertisement

Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Floodwaters spread misery across much of Africa

September 20, 2007

Advertisement

Floodwaters surround Magoro, a town in eastern Uganda. In Magoro, the only way out of town to reach a hospital or market is by helicopter, boat or wading through waist-high water for three miles. Across Africa, torrential downpours and flash floods affected more than a million people across at least 17 countries.

Floodwaters surround Magoro, a town in eastern Uganda. In Magoro, the only way out of town to reach a hospital or market is by helicopter, boat or wading through waist-high water for three miles. Across Africa, torrential downpours and flash floods affected more than a million people across at least 17 countries.

— Fish swam alongside the dugout canoes residents were using to flee their flooded homes, riding the water gushing through the streets of this town in eastern Uganda.

Across Africa, torrential downpours and flash floods have submerged whole towns and washed away bridges, farms and schools. More than a million people have been affected by the rains since the summer, according to the United Nations. At least 200 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced in 17 countries.

In Uganda, one of the hardest-hit, humanitarian workers were trying to reach villages that have been cut off by water amid warnings of food crises and a rising risk of disease outbreaks.

"I've lost everything," Martha Amongin, 56, told The Associated Press on Wednesday in Magoro, a town in eastern Uganda that is surrounded by floodwater and has become inaccessible by road. "Life is going to be bad."

Driving rain pounded Amongin's hut for days until the structure gave way, disintegrating into a pile of mud and burying everything inside.

The only route out of Magoro to reach a hospital or market is by helicopter, boat or wading through waist-high water for three miles. Earlier this week, the water was chest-deep, and residents said one person drowned trying to make the crossing.

Richard Okello uses his canoe to ferry people across the murky water.

"Some people are scared to get in the boat; they don't know water and they have never used a boat before," he said. "But what choice do they have?"

Indeed, Ugandans haven't seen floodwaters like this in more than 35 years, a disaster Amongin remembers well.

That time, at least, "the floods happened after we harvested our crops," she said from her new home - a mud hut much like her last one, but shared with 20 people instead of four.

This time, Amongin's cassava, potato and groundnut crops were washed away. "Now, we have nothing," the mother of two said.

The water also has brought much of Soroti, a 20-minute helicopter ride from Magoro, to a standstill.

When Soroti is dry, the roads are potholed but passable, and bicycles and buses are the best way to get around. Maize and cotton dot the landscape.

But the floods have washed out roads and crops during a potentially lucrative harvest season. Traffic police are stationed along high roads, urging vehicles to turn back. Bicycles are stuck in the sticky mud.

Other affected countries include Somalia, which is struggling to quell an insurgency and to recover from a seemingly endless cycle of drought and flood.

Interior Minister Mohamed Mohamud Guled said this week that southern Somalia faced a "humanitarian catastrophe," because rivers had burst their banks, flooding farms and destroying crops. The rivers began flooding in late August following heavy rains in neighboring Ethiopia, he said.

On the other side of the continent, Ghana has also been heavily hit. Three regions in the north, the country's traditional breadbasket, have been declared an official disaster zone after whole towns and villages were submerged. Torrential rains between July and August killed at least 32 people and displaced a quarter of a million, the U.N. said.

Humanitarian workers are struggling to reach the neediest.

Tesema Negash, the World Food Program's country director in Uganda, said it was impossible to trust the weather.

"It's a beautiful day today but we don't know what tomorrow brings," Negash said, speaking under a clear, blue sky - just hours before the clouds descended again, sending a deluge of rain onto a drenched landscape.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.