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In the news: Flooding sweeps Kenya, displacing thousands

‘Roads are cut, bridges have been destroyed, access to health facilities is becoming a challenge’.

Ilyas Ahmed/UN Photo
Boys walk through a flooded area in Belet Weyne, Somalia, in 2018.

Thousands of people have been forced to flee flooding in western Kenya after the River Nzoia broke its banks on Saturday following several days of heavy rains, with torrents of water submerging homes and uprooting trees.

Rains have lashed west, central, and southeast Kenya for over a week, causing rivers to overflow, triggering floods and mudslides. Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said on Thursday that 116 people had so far died across 29 of Kenya’s 47 counties.

Media images have shown residents setting up makeshift shelters on narrow stretches of raised ground near the floodwaters. “Shelter is a big priority; people need to be given a place to stay to shield them from the continued rains,” said Asha Mohammed, the secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross. “Roads are cut, bridges have been destroyed, access to health facilities is becoming a challenge.”

The Kenya Red Cross has asked county governments for additional shelters due to concerns that coronavirus could spread due to overcrowding. “I would advocate for an integrated approach to ensure that we are able to reach the same populations talking about COVID-19 prevention, and also ensuring that we deal with the effects of the floods,” said Mohammed.

Abnormally heavy rains have fallen across East Africa. The run-off from the storms that have pelted the Ethiopian highlands has caused flash flooding along the Juba and Shabelle river valleys in neighbouring Somalia. Thousands of people, including those made homeless by conflict and earlier climate shocks, have lost their homes and farms, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination office, OCHA.

“The river levels are rising at an unprecedented rate,” OCHA’s head of office, Justin Brady, told The New Humanitarian. “We’re seeing water levels now we’d normally see at the end of May.”

Look out for a TNH report soon on the flooding in Somalia.

– Obi Anyadike

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