10 May coronauganda#6: Viruses, Locust, Flood, ETC.
While we are at home for a two-week extension of the confinement following the last presidential announcement, nature has not yet embraced telecommuting in Uganda and more broadly in West Africa. While the virus is not yet wreaking the havoc that many had expected, locusts, malaria and heavy rains are doing their utmost to ensure that the region is not spared. The global economic downturn is not helping, as there are not enough resources to fight wounds that are already far more deadly than Covid-19. And global warming is far from being a benign player.
A Straight Line, Not a Curve in Uganda, but Measures That Are Hurting More and More
Uganda has officially registered 116 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. In recent weeks, the numbers have been driven up mainly by truck drivers from Tanzania and Kenya, but the numbers are still far below Western predictions. Random testing has revealed a few cases of community transmission, but they remain rare and few in number (one case here, one there). While the number of people tested in Uganda is far below what it would take to make a strong case that the virus has not made planted its roots, hospitals are not yet on alert and it would appear that the country is indeed spared for the time being.
Hoping that this will continue, and bearing in mind that we are far from having gotten out of it, one thing is nevertheless certain: the economic impact of the measures continues to wreak havoc. As we have already mentioned in several articles, many Ugandans, working mainly in the informal economy, are struggling to feed themselves. The government’s food distribution programme barely reaches beyond the borders of a few districts of the capital, and the efforts of civil society, which is incredibly committed, fail to reach all the needy, as there are far too many of them. Lacking nutrients, Ugandans listen with fear in their stomachs to their president’s weekly logorrhoea, hoping for a relaxation of the measures that should come sooner rather than later to avert a humanitarian disaster. Perhaps the worst part of all this is how little is known. The lack of a death toll in Uganda will not make it possible to know which of the cures or ills will have prevailed.
In the meantime, we are doing what Mzee told us, which is to wear a mask on our rare outings, and we continue to do what we can to support our organizations and our Ugandan friends during this difficult time.
Clouds of Locusts
While all the attention is focused on Covid-19, a potentially far more deadly evil is in full swing in East Africa. While damage is so far limited in Uganda, contained to a few districts in the northeast of the country, northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia are grappling with a potential famine of biblical proportions. The fault lies with clouds of locusts that devour everything in their path, with some swarms covering areas the size of Luxembourg. The second wave is 20 times larger than the first, and experts expect the locusts to be 400 times more numerous in the in the next. These dizzying figures, reminding us of the famous exponential progressions that characterise, among other things, the impact of global warming, speak for themselves.
Affected countries are beginning to lack the means to combat this scourge, in particular because of the slowdown in trade, which is considerably hampering the supply of the necessary equipment. The locusts arrive at the worst possible time, the beginning of the rainy season, when the many people living on subsistence farming are planting what will become their food for the next six months. In a context already strained by the measures put in place to combat Covid-19, you don’t need a degree in nutrition to get an idea of the humanitarian crisis ahead. And here again, while the need for aid will increase, it is likely to decrease for obvious reasons of the ongoing global economic catastrophe.
As if that weren’t enough, many parts of East Africa are facing serious flooding problems because of the heavy rains. If we are spared in northern Uganda, the same cannot be said of central and southern Uganda. Many roads are cut off and landslides claim dozens of lives. Lake Victoria has risen to a level not seen since 1964, putting the many people living along its shores in imminent danger. And it’s not as if they can simply relocate as Museveni suggests, as they are trapped in a poverty that seems to offer no escape route.
In Kenya, tens of thousands of people have had to leave their villages to take refuge in temporary camps, which has had a negative impact on the fight against Covid-19. Similarly, in Uganda, a hospital was destroyed by a storm, preventing medical staff from doing their work. If the virus were to spread as some are expecting, the torrential rains that are falling on East African countries will pose a serious problem for the authorities. For the time being, however, they have already claimed far more victims than the virus itself.
While the West is relaxing its measures to allow the economy to recover (rightly so, otherwise the situation will soon prove catastrophic for the hundreds of thousands of poor people who exist in Switzerland too, and those who could join them), it seems more important than ever to keep in mind the common denominator that lies behind all these wounds that are hitting, among others, Uganda. Unsurprisingly, climate change, for which humans (especially those living in developed countries, it is worth recalling that Africa as a whole produce less than 4% of total CO2 emissions) are responsible, is indeed playing a major role. And as we keep repeating, it is always the most vulnerable who pay the highest price. The situation is eminently complex and difficult for many to grasp all its aspects. However, it is important not to look at all these disasters in isolation and to bear in mind that unless drastic measures are put in place quickly to combat climate change, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg for the moment.
The negative impact on health caused by man’s destruction of nature is no secret. Experts expect that exposure to viruses will continue to increase in the future, and are hardly surprised by Covid-19. Similarly, while some believe that it is difficult at present to link locusts and global warming, still suspecting a link, others say that cyclones in the Arabian Sea have contributed significantly to the problem. Landslides and other floods are also caused by an increase in rainfall during the rainy season, an immediate effect of climate change predicted by much of the scientific community.
In summary, the situation is alarming and the region is expecting difficult years ahead. All these wounds that are afflicting us are growing stronger among them, making it difficult to combat any one of them and exposing millions of people to a potentially deadly situation in the coming months. I have tried to summarize them all in the diagram below, in the hope that the reader will be able to show clemency. I am neither a climatologist nor a virologist, let alone an entomologist. Moreover, the complexity of the situation cannot be summarized so easily (especially since other threats, such as the increase in malaria cases, are not taken into account), but I believe, without too much mistake, that this diagram offers a more global picture of the current disaster and how each problem influences the others.