When nature unleashes its wrath, the results can be universally catastrophic and heartbreaking; homes destroyed, towns flattened, and countless lives lost. It’s up to the resilience of the affected people to rebuild, along with support from the international community. But while the African continent has fared better than some regions such as the South Pacific, there are still too many disasters marring its history to count.
An estimated 400,000 people died in northern Ethiopia alone in the massive famine brought on by a severe drought that struck the country in the early 1980s. Particularly in the north, the lack of rain caused acres upon acres of crops to wither and die, resulting in a countrywide food shortage. The situation was exacerbated by government instability and corruption, as well as the presence of numerous and powerful insurgent groups that hampered international relief efforts.
On June 12, 2011, the Nabro stratovolcano that sits on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border exploded without warning for the first time in recorded history. More than 30 people died in the initial eruption, and thousands more had to be evacuated as their homes and towns were threatened. The enormous ash cloud that resulted emitted the largest amount of sulfur dioxide ever observed from Earth’s orbit, and more than 10,000 people in the surrounding area suffered from its effects, needing immediate aid that was slow to come.
In February 2000, the powerful Cyclone Leon-Eline made its way across the Indian Ocean to strike Mozambique and Madagascar with serious results. Casualties from the storm reached more than 1,000, and more than 300,000 people were displaced with homes being destroyed and towns flooded. In Mozambique, the situation was even more dire as the country was still recovering from Cyclone Connie that had struck earlier that year. The effects were felt as far as South Africa, which suffered extensive rainfall and flooding as well.
In what is considered the worst drought in decades, the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular suffered for nearly a year beginning in July 2011 with record-low precipitation. The resulting food crisis, brought on by widespread crop failure and livestock loss, affected an estimated 12.4 million people across Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. The U.N. responded with humanitarian aid, but its slow response was also hampered by military activity and dangerous environments on the ground. A refugee crisis developed as hundreds of thousands of women and children fled to nearby countries from political instability and hunger in Southern Somalia.
In February and March 2000, Mozambique endured some of the heaviest rainfall in recent history, lasting for more than five weeks without letting up. Approximately 800 people died in the flood and thousands more suffered as their homes were destroyed and livelihoods damaged. An estimated 20,000 livestock were lost, along with thousands of square kilometers of farmland. More than 44,000 people were left homeless when the rains finally let up, and the government frantically tried to meet the demands for aid and rebuilding.
The 365 AD Crete Earthquake
While it’s difficult to accurately evaluate the damage caused by the 365 AD earthquake in Crete, it is thought that thousands died across the countries it affected, including the hard-hit areas of Northern Africa including Egypt and Libya. The massive tsunami that followed the quake destroyed towns and villages across Northern Libya and Alexandria, and the Nile Delta region suffered enormously — land, homes, and lives were lost. Geological and literary evidence have provided historians proof of the event, and its massive scale.
Starting in December 2010, massive rainfall brought on by a La Niña event in South Africa caused more than $200 million in damages. An estimated 141 people died, and more than 30 disaster zones were declared by the South African government in eight of the country’s nine provinces. KwaZulu Natal was hit particularly hard, and thousands of residents were displaced as their homes were destroyed by torrential rain and overflowing rivers.
On April 9-10, 1984, the worst tropical cyclone to hit Madagascar in nearly a century made landfall in the northern part of the country near Diego Suarez. Criss-crossing the country, Cyclone Kamisy created winds of 160 mph and dropped nearly 10 inches of rain in less than a day. Nearly 100,000 people were left homeless as a result of the storm, and 68 deaths were reported. Cities and towns across the north in particular were flattened, and an estimated $250 million was spent on damages.
On February 29, 1960, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit the port city of Agadir, Morocco, causing massive damage to the city and surrounding area. Though the magnitude was relatively moderate in comparison to other earthquakes recorded throughout history, its high intensity killed more than 12,000 people and nearly 40,000 others were injured or lost their homes. Experts also point to poor construction throughout Agadir, increasing the destructiveness. It is considered the most destructive and deadly earthquake in Moroccan history, costing millions of dollars to rebuild.
While most earthquakes in the past have not caused as much damage in Africa as in other parts of the world, the 1966 Toro earthquake was particularly devastating for Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On March 20, 1966, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit right on the border between the two countries, though it could be felt as far away as Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya. More than 150 people were killed in the initial quake, but another 100 died in the coming months due to aftershocks (mostly from a nasty aftershock on May 18 of the same year). Buildings collapsed, homes were destroyed, and resulting landslides blocked roads all over, impeding rescue efforts.