At least 49 people were killed and hundreds of homes destroyed by landslides in northern Rwanda following torrential rains over the weekend, a government official told Reuters on Monday. The downpours also injured another 26 people and damaged infrastructure in the small East African nation.
Seraphine Mukantabana, Rwanda’s disaster management and refugee affairs minister, told the Associated Press most of the victims lived in the mountainous Gakenke district, some 50 miles from the country’s capital of Kigali. There, at least 34 people lost their lives, and more than 500 homes were destroyed. Mukantabana said children and the elderly were worst affected, and the Rwandan government urged some residents to relocate to safer areas.
Countries across East Africa have recorded much heavier rainy seasons this year, while countries in the Horn of Africa region and southern Africa haven’t had much rain at all. Many governments have attributed the erratic rains to the current El Niño, which is a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Weather agencies worldwide have said the persistent weather phenomenon could become the strongest on record.
El Niño affects rainfall patterns and temperatures around the world, but most intensely in the tropical regions of Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America. The waxing and waning of rainfall across sub-Saharan Africa in recent years has been attributed to both El Niño and La Niña, the cooler counterpart of El Niño that produces opposite climate variations as part of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation. While some areas receive excess rain, leading to floods, others receive none, bringing drought, famine and illness.
The deadly landslides in Rwanda come a little over a week after flooding caused a residential building to collapse in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, killing 49 people. The six-story building in Huruma, a poor neighborhood in the city, tumbled to the ground in a heavy downpour on the night of April 29, according to Reuters.