NAIROBI, Kenya — Flooding in East Africa has added another challenge to five nations already fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Across East Africa this year, floods have left thousands homeless, destroyed planting fields and washed away topsoil, and taken a heavy toll on infrastructure. Some bridges have been washed away and we have found a number of roads that are impassable,” said Niek de Goeij, country representative in Uganda for Catholic Relief Services.

The region’s bishops have been calling for help as agencies estimate that at least 1.3 million people in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda and Ethiopia are affected.

In Kenya, CRS is supporting construction of flood-resistant houses in Kisumu County. It is also distributing mattresses, bed sheets, blankets, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets targeting nearly 500 families. A similar number will receive a monthly basic food basket. Agency staffers plan to distribute protective masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in overcrowded shelters.

Lane Bunkers, CRS representative in Kenya, said 80 vulnerable households will receive $50 cash transfers to aid a return to their homes.

“They can also use the money as business startup funds to establish new livelihoods if they have lost their original source of income or support education fees and other supplies, clothing, and basic home repairs,” said Bunkers.

De Goeij said western Uganda, more than 11,500 people left homeless urgently need food, clothing, sleeping and cooking materials as well as tarps and mosquito nets.

CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, said it would support about 1,000 Ugandan households with initial cash transfers.

“Cash transfers are fast and avoid the crowds typically seen at aid distributions or voucher fairs, which are important in the COVID-19 context,” said De Goeij.