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East Africa’s abnormal rainfall

River Nile burst its banks in West Nile recently cutting off the region from the rest of the country.

Meteorologists warn of more rains in coming weeks

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Thousands of people continue to be displaced in eastern and western Uganda due to heavy rains that are also wreaking havoc across the East African region.

More than 30 people in Uganda have died in the past two weeks as result of flooding and landslides and the government says tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.

Weather experts say the rains have been enhanced by a phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole and it appears there will be no let-off in the coming weeks. The term ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’ refers to the difference in sea surface temperature between the western and eastern poles of the ocean.

Godfrey Mujuni, the Manager Data Centre at the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) told The Independent on Dec. 09 that the Indian Ocean stretches from the East African Coast (western part of the ocean) to the eastern side (Australia and Indonesia).

And, occasionally, either pole or region of the ocean goes through periodic warming bringing with it what meteorologists call the positive Indian Ocean Dipole. A positive Dipole is said to cause a rise in water temperatures in the ocean by up to 2°C leading to an increase in water vapour in the atmosphere that later falls as rain.

“A positive IOD (in the western portion of the ocean) normally favours the whole East African hinterland bringing a lot of rain and when it does not favour the region, it causes drought conditions,” Mujuni says.

Mujuni explains that it is this event that has caused ‘above normal’ rains throughout eastern Africa including Uganda since October this year.  Ethiopia, northern and southern parts of Somalia, eastern South Sudan, central and northeastern Kenya, and parts of northwestern and eastern Tanzania have also been affected.

The rains have also caused several rivers to flood blocking major highways and other important roads. Early this month, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) issued a travel advisory to people travelling to the northwestern region of West Nile to use alternative routes when the River Nile burst its banks cutting off the road at Pakwach. The road connects Uganda to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The rains have caused destructive flooding in several low-lying areas and landslides in the mountainous regions of Bundibugyo in the West and the Bududa areas in the eastern region. Bundibugyo has so far registered over 20 deaths following devastating landslides on Dec. 07.

Diana Tumuhimbise, the Red Cross branch manager for Rwenzori region said the humanitarian agency had on Dec. 08 recovered 12 bodies from the deluge while one person was rushed to hospital with serious injuries. However, the humanitarian agency later updated its fatality count to 22 on Dec.09.

“Our team continues to recover more bodies including some that are trapped by cocoa trees in the Bundibugyo hills. It is a very devastating moment,” the Red Cross said, adding that other affected areas include; Bulambuli, Butaleja, Manafwa, Namisindwa, Mbale, Sironko, Amuru, Kasese, Nakapiripirit and Otuke Districts.

Musa Ecweru, the Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness said a swift assessment conducted by the government in the most affected mountainous districts of Bududa, Sironko, Manafwa, Namisindwa and Mbale has placed the number of displaced persons at 25,000 while some 85,000 households were affected and 21,500 hectares of crop and plantation damaged.

Still, in the low-lying eastern Uganda regions of Teso and Bukedi, at least 55,000 people have been displaced and over 120,000 hectares of crop destroyed by floods. The northern part of the country has also suffered losses of crop and home destruction due to flooding.

This period of the year is supposed to be the “rainy season” in Uganda and much of East Africa, according to weather experts, but the rains which are falling this year have been described as ‘above average.’

The rains have also left devastation in several countries in the region with close to one million South Sudanese affected, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Central African Republic has seen more than 100,000 affected, Burundi (3,800 with 2 deaths), Democratic Republic of Congo (200,000 with 40 deaths), Tanzania (1,100, 44 deaths) and Kenya (160,000, 125 deaths).

Somalia has seen more than 547,000 people affected with 17 people dead, Ethiopia (570,000, 23 deaths), Djibouti (150,000, 9 deaths) and Sudan (426,000). The experts say the current rainfall season is expected to be one of the wettest on record since the 1980s.

Ecweru said the government had released Shs 20bn (US$5.5 million) under the life saving and rescue phase to address the landslides situation in the mountainous and in flooding areas.

The minister said the funds will be used for procurement of relief food, tarpaulins, and blankets, drugs for water borne diseases, inflatable boats and culverts for fixing washed away bridges.

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