Climate crisis: “We are not all equally impacted”

People crossing a flooded field in South Sudan

Record numbers of people are being affected by flooding in East Africa as climate shocks become more severe and more frequent

Nearly six million people in East Africa have been impacted by unprecedented levels of flooding this year, with 1.5 million people forced to leave their homes, according to UN figures. Parts of the region are recording the heaviest rains in a century, and the rains are expected to peak in November.

Floods in Ethiopia
Floods in Ethiopia (October 2020)

The floods combined with the coronavirus pandemic are exacerbating risks for vulnerable populations. Camille Davis, CARE’s Director of Humanitarian Planning and Resource Mobilization, says women and girls, refugees, and farming populations are particularly at risk:

It cannot be overstated how urgent this is. When people are displaced, education is disrupted, there are protection concerns, access to reproductive health is cut off. I can go on and on.

A recent report by CARE shows how women and girls bear the brunt of climate change. Systemic inequalities limit their decision-making powers and ability to access basic services and recover from climate-related disasters. “Women displaced by disasters also face an increased risk of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, forced marriage and trafficking,” according to the report.

Floods in Sudan
A flooded field beside a road in Sudan

In March, many countries across the region including Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Djibouti began experiencing heavier rainfall than usual, leading to massive flooding and landslides.

The data shows a concerning trend. In 2016, one million people in the region were affected by flooding, and only three years later, in 2019, that number has quadrupled to four million.

A flooded street in Somalia
A flooded street in Somalia

In Somalia, 650,000 people have been displaced this year alone due to flooding. Abdinur Elmi, CARE Somalia/Somaliland’s Emergency Director, says the situation is dire:

We have witnessed families who have lost all their belongings and livelihoods. The destruction of water and sanitation hygiene infrastructure has left women and girls at risk as they have to travel long distances to access clean water.

Composite of two images of flooding in Sudan
Flooding in Sudan has caused widespread damage

In Sudan, nearly every state has experienced flooding. In September, when floods were the worst the country has seen in 30 years, authorities declared a three-month state of emergency. More than 120 people have died due to the floods and 860,000 people have had houses destroyed or damaged. Tesfaye Hussein, CARE’s Interim Program Director in Sudan, says:

The rainy season and the flooding … might be subsiding, but the Sudanese people’s silent suffering continues. It cannot be overstated how urgent climate action is.

He says soaring annual inflation — which reached 200% in September — “is hitting the most vulnerable people extremely hard, especially women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.” Nearly 25% of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance.

Composite of two images of flooding in Ethiopia
Flooding has caused damage and led to disruption in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, flooding has displaced over 300,000 people in several parts of the country. The devastating floods, together with a desert locust infestation and the COVID-19 pandemic are aggravating the chronic vulnerabilities of communities, particularly farmers.

As with other emergency situations, health risks remain particularly concerning, especially during a global pandemic. Elizabeth Milten, CARE Ethiopia’s Emergency Program Coordinator, says:

Risk of spread of COVID-19, cholera outbreak, and other water-borne diseases including malaria are the greatest health-related concerns.

Throughout the region, CARE teams are on the ground providing food, emergency shelter, and cash to those most impacted, along with repairing latrines, rehabilitating wells, and distributing hygiene kits and sanitary products for women.

People crossing floods in South Sudan
People struggle to cross a flooded area in South Sudan

Camille Davis says progress made by development and humanitarian organisations in recent decades is being derailed by extreme weather:

The shocks are becoming more severe and more frequent and so these development gains are eroded. People are losing their assets, their crops, their livestock and have to start over. It’s a complete uprooting … We are not all equally impacted.

On the day (9 November 2020) that the UN climate conference (COP26) – which was postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic – would have taken place in Glasgow, UK, CARE is calling on all governments to consider 2020 a deadline for survival. Five years ago, in Paris, countries agreed to submit new and ambitious national climate plans in 2020. Yet only 16 out of 189 countries that signed the Paris Agreement have currently submitted new national climate plans (Nationally Determined Plans – NDCs).  

The postponement of COP26 to November 2021 must not be used as an excuse for the lack of ambitious climate action.

A petition signed by CARE supporters as part of our #SheLeadsInCrisis campaign was delivered to the UK government, which holds the COP26 Presidency and will be hosting the re-arranged COP26 in November 2021, demanding they prioritise gender justice. Francesca Rhodes, CARE International UK, Senior Advocacy and Policy Adviser, Gender and Climate Change, says:

“As hosts of both the G7 and COP26 in 2021, the UK government has a crucial role in leading action for climate and gender justice. At last year’s COP25, all countries adopted a new Gender Action Plan, agreeing to support women’s empowerment and promote gender equality in climate action and diplomacy.”

It is therefore deeply disappointing that the UK decided to appoint an all-male COP26 leadership team, which we fear shows they are not prioritising gender equality in climate action.

“We welcome the appointment of Anne Marie Trevelyan MP to the COP26 team and that her role focuses on supporting countries in the global south to be resilient and adapt to climate change. More can be done to take forward gender justice – CARE urges the UK government to appoint a high-level gender equality champion to the leadership team, implement the Gender Action Plan in full, and make sure climate finance reaches women’s rights organisations responding to the already devastating effects of climate change.”

Story by Jacky Habib

CARE's picture

News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.