Flooding washed away roads, bridges and a hospital in Uganda and an entire small town in Somalia as torrential rain across East Africa compounded problems for governments struggling to respond to the new coronavirus.
Hundreds of people have been killed by floodwaters in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda and Ethiopia which have also displaced hundreds of thousands across the region.
Heavy rains flooded areas around Mount Rwenzori in Western Uganda after the River Nyamwamba burst its banks, forcing more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in nearby schools and destroying roads and bridges, a senior government official said.
“What complicates the matter is that this is the era of COVID. People are expected to maintain social distance but how do you maintain distance in such a situation?” Julius Mucunguzi, spokesman for the prime minister’s office, said by telephone.
One of the hospitals in the area, Kilembe, was also overrun by the gushing waters despite being built on a raised bank and reinforced with sandbags.
“There are wards which were completely washed away. The mortuary was swept away. You wouldn’t know that once upon a time there was a mortuary there. The drugs and drug stores were washed away,” Mucunguzi said.
In Ethiopia, the Somali region in the east of the country has borne the brunt of the floods, which have displaced more than 100,000 people, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
In neighbouring Somalia, an unspecified number of people were killed when floods washed away an entire small town in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, officials said.
The heavy rains stem from moisture dumped in the region by winds coming in from the Indian Ocean where temperatures have risen in recent months, Chris Shisanya, a professor of climatology at Nairobi-based Kenyatta University, said.
“This is a carry-over of what we had last year,” he said, referring to floods and landslides in the region.
Nearly 200 people in Kenya have been killed by the floods, which have also displaced 100,000 more.
“This is compounding the COVID-19 response,” Kenya Health Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman told a news conference.
“The displaced people have been forced to congregate in makeshift camps with the risk of banding together exposing them to the possibility of contracting the virus.”
Official recorded deaths from COVID-19 are at least 102 across East Africa, where the virus arrived later than many other parts of the world.