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Drought, floods and the climate crisis

Why does the changing climate mean more droughts and floods, and how does it impact those living in poverty?

Livestock are dying and harvests are failing as a result of drought in Kenya. The climate crisis means devestating droughts, floods and unpredictable rainy seasons are widespread across East Africa | Image credit: Will Swanson / Tearfund

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and that’s seen in the world’s water system in particular. Severe flooding, drought and changing rainy seasons are devastating for those living in poverty, and the climate crisis is making it worse. But there are things you can do to help.

Droughts, floods and their impact

The World Bank estimates that 1.65 billion people have experienced flooding and 1.45 million have lived through severe drought in the last 20 years. Each event has devastating consequences including loss of life, homes and livestock.

Droughts and flooding are closely linked to each other. When there is prolonged dry weather, the ground becomes hard and compacted, so when rains do come, the water has nowhere to go – resulting in flash flooding. Homes, schools and health centres can quickly become flooded and crops get washed away. 

Climate crisis

But droughts and floods are also linked to the warming climate. Higher temperatures mean more moisture is evaporated into the atmosphere, creating more rainfall. This leads to frequent, heavier rainfalls in some parts, while other places remain dry. 

This imbalance in the water system can be catastrophic. Millions of people in climate-vulnerable nations rely on farming for their food and income. They need rainy seasons to be predictable so they can plan for planting and harvesting. 

When rains fail, this means poor harvests and food insecurity. Four successive failed rainy seasons have already left 18 million people in East Africa desperately short of food.

 

A nomadic pastoral woman in Marsabit County, northern Kenya, where extreme drought has killed livestock. Image credit: Will Swanson / Tearfund

'The greatest threat'

Reverend Dennis Nthenge is a leader in the Anglican church in Kenya. He’s witnessed the impact of climate change on food supply in his community.

‘We cannot predict the rains anymore,’ shares Dennis.

‘Sometimes you end up having nothing coming from the fields because there is no rain. Maybe you see the first drop and you think the rains are here, so you put the seeds in the ground. But at the end of a week or two the rains disappear, and you are left with seedlings that cannot be used for anything. 

‘That is the greatest threat that we have in Kenya. The drought really bites hard. You see cows dying, and because there is no food, people are fighting for the little grazing area.’

 

A girl, duck in hand, wades through water in western Uganda, where Lake Albert levels caused the area to flood, destroying countless homes. Image credit: Creative Commons

‘Climate change is so hard’

Uganda has also experienced prolonged drought, with thousands of people in the north-east currently facing starvation due to food shortages. But in the south and south-eastern parts, sudden heavy rainfall often leads to flash flooding, while rising water levels in Lake Victoria threaten homes and livelihoods.

‘We have floods every day,’ says Daniel Kayemba who works for Tearfund partner Ecobrixs, which recycles plastic waste into construction materials.

‘In north-eastern Uganda, climate change is so hard… There is a drought. It [has gone] like two years without raining. [But] in southern Uganda, Lake Victoria’s shores are submerged by water. Water moved close to 50 metres from the shores and many people were displaced.

'We have people who are pastoralists who are losing their animals on a daily basis because of climate change.’

Daniel has also felt the impact of changing weather patterns on his family’s farming practices. ‘My mum knew when the rains were supposed to come, when the sun was supposed to come, she used to know when to plant and when to harvest. Right now, we cannot determine the seasons, because the days have changed. My mother always makes losses in terms of early planting or late planting.’

What can I do?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the climate crisis, but there are lots of ways to help communities like Dennis’s and Daniel’s.

Sign our petition

Sign and share our Time to Deliver petition, calling on the UK Government to influence other wealthy nations to deliver the climate finance they promised to climate-vulnerable nations. This finance would help communities suffering the worst effects of the climate crisis adapt to changing conditions and ensure a secure future.

Speak up

Contact your MP to let them know you care about the climate crisis and ask them what they intend to do about it. MPs notice what their constituents contact them about regularly, so it’s worth emailing, writing to or calling them. And keep speaking to your friends, family and church about the climate crisis. You can use our climate resources as a starting point.

Give

You can give to our Forgotten Crises appeal and help ensure no one is forgotten. Conflict and climate change put millions of lives at risk, including those across East Africa experiencing severe hunger every day. Your gift could provide emergency relief to people who are in desperate need.

Pray with us

Prayer is vital for those most affected by droughts, floods and the changing climate.

 
 
 

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