The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. East Africa
  4. Kenya

Water shortages lead to cholera outbreaks

[Angola] The polio vaccine campaign has come to late for Artur.
The polio virus can cause total paralysis. (IRIN)

Cholera, measles and polio outbreaks are ongoing in parts of northern Kenya due to a water shortage brought on by drought, and an influx of Somali refugees in the east, say officials.

"About 13 people are reported to have died of cholera in Turkana [in the northwest] since 20 August," Shahnaaz Sharif, the director of public health, told IRIN, adding that five of the deaths occurred in hospital while the rest have been reported by villagers.

New cases are being reported in the Turkana divisions of Kalokol and Kerio, Sharif said.

"The worry is [that] they [Turkana residents] are using water from the Ferguson Gulf, in Lake Turkana, which is contaminated," he said. A broken-down water pump has been repaired to provide clean water. The area also has low latrine cover, contributing to improper waste disposal.

In the capital Nairobi, three cholera cases were reported in the eastern Dandora area seven days ago. "This was caused by the use of water from a well that was sunk close to a latrine," he said.

Dysentery cases are also being reported 250km from the northeastern Laisamis area, where a previous cholera outbreak was reported.

So far, more than 600 cholera cases have been reported in the affected Turkana divisions, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) health coordinator for Kenya, Vincent Kahi, told IRIN.

"Lack of water for Kalokol, Turkana, is the main driver of the disease," Kahi said.

He said NGO partners, with the Health Ministry, were distributing chlorine for water treatment and repairing infrastructure.

The IRC is helping to provide medicine and staff to help in the early diagnosis of the disease.

Polio and measles cases

A total of 18 polio cases have been reported since February in Turkana. The last case was diagnosed four weeks ago, according to the health ministry, which is carrying out control campaigns.

"It looks like it [polio] was imported from Sudan in the north," said Kahi, adding that cross-border movement was rampant in the area.

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease that can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at any age, but mainly affects children younger than three.

Before the recent outbreak, the last polio case in Kenya was recorded more than 20 years ago.

In neighbouring Kakuma refugee camp, two measles cases have been confirmed, he said; there are three more suspected cases.

This has prompted intensified surveillance and screening of new refugee arrivals. Some 12,000 Somali refugees are being transferred to Kakuma from Dadaab camp in the northeast to ease congestion there.

Up to 16 August, some 62 measles cases were reported in the Hagadera camp in Daadab, he said adding that currently, there are new suspected cases in the Dagahaley camp.

Dadaab's three refugee sites house at least 284,306 refugees. This is triple Dadaab's capacity.

Measles, which is also a contagious viral disease, affects mostly children and is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons. Initial symptoms include a cold and fever, followed by a fine red rash.

A nationwide measles vaccination campaign is scheduled to begin on 19 September.

The Kenya Red Cross Society is supporting water and sanitation projects in drought-hit northeastern Ijara and Isiolo in the east to reduce the vulnerability of pastoralist communities to recurrent droughts.

KRCS staff and volunteers are also training community members in hygiene and are continuing to distribute relief aid to 573,343 beneficiaries in the region.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.