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East Africa rain and floods linked to disproportionate effects of climate change

Most of the conversations that take place about climate change focus on what the future might hold if we don't act, but the fact of the matter is we are already experiencing the effects of past inaction. Look no further than countries like South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia in East Africa, which are experiencing unprecedented levels of rain. According to the BBC, the extreme weather events have led to flash floods that have affected more than three million people, pushing hundreds of thousands from their homes and resulted in more than 250 deaths.

These African nations are nowhere near the top contributors to climate change, producing very little greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the rising temperature of the planet. But they have not been spared from the effects of the behaviors of countries like China, India and the United States. Much of the region has been exposed to unrelenting rainfall that their landscape and infrastructure are not suited to deal with. The result is often devastation. People's homes have been washed away, entire crops have been destroyed and roads into cities have straight up disappeared. In a country like Kenya, where many of the crops are rain fed and rely on a fairly predictable pattern of weather, these events can have long-lasting effects that are difficult to calculate in the moment. The sudden rains also come after a long-running severe drought that damaged the region earlier this year and left as many as 8.7 million people without proper access to food and other resources, according to the International Rescue Committee.

Flooding does happen in East Africa, but not like this. Typically, these events come slowly and are the result of river levels rising above their banks. Those events happen more slowly and often give time to prepare. The floods currently hitting the African nations occur quickly, sometimes without warning. They happen literally in a matter of minutes and can carry with them other dangerous environmental hazards. In Kenya, for instance, the floods have resulted in massive mudslides. A single mudslide that pushed through the village of Takmal earlier this year took the lives of 17 people, and as many as 29 people have been lost to similar occurrences, according to Kenya interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiangi. The mudslides also make parts of the country next to impossible to navigate, leaving authorities with little means to help those who have been left stranded as a result of the weather events.

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For those affected by the rainfall and all that comes with it, relief does not appear to be on its way. The unrelenting rains are expected to continue through December and could last until January. It's not the first time that the region has experienced so called "long rains," though this particular instance has been worse than others in the past. When similar weather events struck Kenya in 2016 and 2017, it sent the nation spiraling into a food crisis as crops were all but destroyed and cattle starved to death. More than one million people within the country were left food insecure as a result of the rain.

These types of extreme weather events have become commonplace in parts of Africa. According to a recently published report by Save the Children, as many as 33 million people in southern and eastern Africa have been effected by environmental events this year, including over 16 million children. The organization also found that more than 1,200 people have died in the region as a result of cyclones, floods and landslides. Another one million people have been displaced from their homes entirely by weather, and that is without factoring in the recent rainfall currently flooding much of eastern Africa. While countries continue polluting and emitting greenhouses gases because the effects have yet to truly effect them, Africa has largely borne the brunt of the planet's rising temperature. According to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, temperatures in subtropical regions of southern Africa have been rising at about twice the global rate over the last five decades. The result are drastic and damaging weather events that many of the nations are not equipped to deal with, resulting in devastating short- and long-term effects.

It is likely that many of the extreme weather events Africa is facing will only continue to get worse. As the temperature of the earth continues to rise, we are projected to experience more outlier weather occurrences. That means more droughts and more rainfall, more heat waves and colder winters. While it's difficult for scientists to tie a single weather event's entire occurrence to climate change directly, it can typically be said that climate change makes these events worse. It's not difficult to see the results of these increasingly intense events in action, either. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated earlier this year that more than seven million people have been displaced from their homes due to weather. That would already put 2019 as one of the worst years on record, and the estimate only accounted for the first half of the year, prior to the floods in Africa and other weather disasters like Hurricane Dorian.

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These events are likely to keep coming and devastation will continue to follow them. That is in part because most countries, while committed to addressing climate change, are failing to meet the benchmarks needed to drastically lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are producing in a timely manner. The United Nations recently warned that there is a "point of no return" when it comes to climate change and we are rapidly approaching it. Other scientists have warned that we might already be there. Some scientists believe that by already allowing the planet's temperature to rise to the levels it has, we have contributed to what will be irreversible environmental change — that we are already past the tipping point when it comes to ice collapse and the loss of coral reefs. Regardless of if we already have one foot over the ledge or we are just simply rapidly approaching it, climate change requires drastic and global action. Failure to do so will likely result in devastation worldwide, and Africa will likely get the worst of it first.