750,000 could be affected by flooding in Kenya, UN says

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The United Nations has warned that up to 750,000 people could be hit by heavy flooding and mudslides in Kenya due to heavy rains.

A plane delivering UNHCR supplies to the Dadaab region after heavy flooding in 2006

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed for US$2.8 million to help more than 300,000 refugees in two camps in Kenya threatened by flooding. The agency explained that the mainly Somali refugees in Kenya's overcrowded Dadaab camps urgently need to be protected from the worst effects of the torrential rains.

Most of Kenya is suffering from the effects of the prolonged drought; however, along the Indian Ocean Coast and the northeastern region of the country, people are being pounded by torrential rainfall.

UN refugee spokesman Andrej Mahecic said many of those affected by the flooding are Somali refugees living in Kenya's overcrowded Dadaab camps.

"We fear that the looming El Nino phenomenon [...] a change in the atmosphere and ocean of the tropical Pacific region that produces floods, droughts and other weather disturbances in many regions of the world-may now threaten the 338,000 mostly Somali refugees in the two camps, which in any case usually are flooded for three months every year," he said.

Although the yearly floods are predictable, Mahecic commented that the UNHCR is limited in what it can do ahead of time to protect the refugees from their destructive impact.

Mahecic says the UNHCR began digging trenches and placing sandbags around hospitals, bore holes and other strategic locations in both camps, when heavy rains started three weeks ago. Without these and other measures, he says many sections of the camps would have been inundated.

"We are also preparing to locate to higher ground within the camps refugees who might be worst affected by the floods, particularly the chronically ill, disabled people, the elderly and children and teenagers on their own," he stated. When asked why camps were built on areas prone to flooding, he replied that the government allocated the areas. "There is very little choice on where you can put a camp," he added.

Much of the money from the appeal will be used to pre-position essential items such as fuel, blankets, plastic sheets, and to respond to possible outbreaks of disease.