Refugee camp submerged as flash floods hit northern Kenya
Heavy rains and flash flooding in northern Kenya have destroyed homes, displaced thousands, and left tens of thousands at risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera—including in Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps.
In Mandera county, at least 750 homes were swept away and an estimated 4,500 people have been displaced. In Turkana county, a bridge has been washed away, cutting off stranded communities from supplies and support.
While it’s not yet clear how many shelters have been destroyed in Dadaab, many refugees were forced to shelter in schools as water levels rose, stranding some who had to be rescued.
Caleb Odhiambo, Area Manager of Save the Children’s Dadaab operation, said the camp is equipped with pit latrines, which are now overflowing, creating a breeding ground for diseases like cholera.
“Children are children and they want to play in the water, which is practically toxic. They don’t realise it could be fatal. What’s more, the floodwaters are washing away people’s belongings, livestock and homes, and families are living in open areas without access to shelter or food.”
The floods come after a severe, prolonged drought which decimated livestock and livelihoods across the Horn of Africa and left 3.4 million people in Kenya facing severe food insecurity.
“In Dadaab, the refugees feel doomed either way because when there’s a drought, there’s no food and when it rains, there’s disease,” he said.
“Following the drought, communities in Northern Kenya have been praying for rain. But climate change, desertification and deforestation mean the top soil has eroded across vast areas, so nothing grows.
“When there are no trees or vegetation to secure the soil’s moisture, heavy rains can be as disastrous as drought. Rather than rainfall being absorbed into the soil to nurture crops, the land simply washes away, taking everything in its path.”
The charity is also concerned that schools become the first line of safety during emergencies.
“While it’s understandable that families need to shelter inside the schools, lessons are due to resume after their Easter break in two weeks’ time, so it’s essential that children can continue their learning,” added Mr. Odhiambo.
Aid agencies in the camp are already struggling to respond due to recent reductions in funding, with Save the Children having to cut its operations in half last year, and the UN’s World Food Program soon to cut food rations by 30%.
Nearly a quarter of a million refugees, mainly from Somalia, live in the camp—more than half of whom are children. But aid workers there report a recent increase of new arrivals from across the border.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
- Cholera has already hospitalised children in Garissa County this year. The Tana river has risen by almost one meter from 4 to 4.9 meters, posing a great danger to residents of the area which includes Dadaab sub-county.
- 309,000 IDPs and 489,000 refugees and asylum seekers are hosted by Kenya. Nearly half a million children are malnourished and only a third of children are enrolled in school drought prone areas.
- An increase in the number of new arrivals, mainly from Somalia, has been reported by teams working in the camp. 7,500 returnees have been profiled—which means they have notified the UNHCR and government of their arrival and been given access to minimal services—however several others have not turned up for profiling and are living with relatives in the camp.
With the registration window having been closed since 2015, the number of unregistered individuals in the camp could be more. Save the Children is concerned these families are not accessing basic services like food, water, shelter, education or medicine when this is a need. This means they are sharing rations with friends and neighbours at the refugee camp, when food is already scarce.