65 Million People in Southern and Eastern Africa Face Unprecedented Threats from Extreme Weather and Conflict
Lydia Zigomo, the Regional Director of UNFPA East and Southern Africa during a press conference Tuesday stressed the need for more funding to support women and girls in during crises.

As many as 65 million people in over a dozen Southern and Eastern African countries from Mozambique to Ethiopia are facing unprecedented challenges with food security, extreme weather events and conflict, UN officials say.

The crises disproportionately affect women, who are already in a more vulnerable situation due to their gender, said Lydia Zigomo, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Regional Director at a Geneva press conference Tuesday. As “they find themselves displaced far from family planning clinics and national healthcare, the risk of violence soars and unintended pregnancies become a harsh reality,” Zigomo said. 

El Niño led to floodings and  worst drought in 40 years

In a region that is already “no stranger to adversity,” fourteen countries have been exceptionally affected by the recent El Niño season which led to droughts of more than 50 days in most places, marking this period as the driest in 40 years, she noted. 

Among those are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

But El Niño also caused historic flooding, said Liesbeth Aelbrecht, WHO’s Incident Manager for the Greater Horn of Africa during the same press briefing. After a four-year drought, the Horn of Africa region was hit by torrential rains and floods affecting about 1,6 million people across Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania

The floods also have a significant health toll, from direct effects like injury and infection to cholera outbreaks as a result of water contamination or prolonged mental health impacts. New cholera outbreaks have been reported in Kenya and Uganda (313 and 32 cases in 2024, until the end of April, according to the WHO), along with an increase in cases in other countries, reaching over 80 000 cases in 14 countries this year. Floodwaters are also a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which in turn exacerbates the risks for malaria, dengue or Rift Valley Fever.

Gender based violence haunts Ethiopia 

In Northern Ethiopia, the number of people at risk of gender-based violence has risen to 7.2 million, compared to 6.7 million in 2023. The recent conflict in the Tigray region has left only 3% of its healthcare facilities fully functioning in 2022, which is still affecting the local health system, Zigomo said.

Tigray refugees on the move over the past year to escape Ethiopan and Eritrean forces

The UNFPA response network includes mobile clinics staffed with midwives and health professionals that service remote areas with reproductive health services as well as services for those experiencing gender based violence – including HIV testing, family planning and psychosocial support.

Zigomo appealed for more funds to secure those operations – which otherwise would have been slashed by half or more by the end of the year. So far, UNFPA has reached only about 20% of its global fundraising goal of $1.2 billion for 2024, Zigomo said, saying the global community should consider this not only as a plea for help, but also an opportunity to “turn the tide” and ensure protection of reproductive health as well as an adequate gender based violence prevention.

“Resilience lies within our grasp,” persuaded Zigomo, as she appealed for more donations. “Today, I want to emphasize hope, hope that stems from our collective efforts,” she added.

Image Credits: © UNFPA/Sufian Abdul-Mouty.

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