Kenya: floods cause major setback to UN efforts to aid thousands of Somali refugees
Heavy flooding has engulfed camps in eastern Kenya where tens of thousands of Somalis have sought refuge from fighting in their own homeland, uprooting more than 78,000 people and killing two, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
“Many of the most vulnerable refugees living in the camps, the old and the sick, may be stranded in their crumbling shelters,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, calling the sudden flooding “a major setback” to agency operations to settle thousands of Somalis.
“We are working with residents to help this group to move to safer and drier areas of the camps.” noting that rising waters had destroyed hundreds of homes in the camps near Dadaab.
Among the fatalities reported yesterday was a three-year-old child who was caught when waters swept across the low-lying region, completely engulfing thousands of refugee shelters and leaving hundreds of huts uninhabitable.
Hundreds of refugees in Ifo camp, the worst affected site, were able by late last night to move into nearby schools where they found shelter, while others escaped to slightly higher ground in other parts of the sprawling camp.
UNHCR estimates that up to 90 per cent of Ifo's 54,000 refugees have been affected by the flooding, while in Dagahaley, some 10 kilometres away, up to 80 per cent of the camp’s 37,000 residents may have lost much of their belongings and many of their homes.
More than 160,000 refugees are currently sheltered in the Dadaab region’s three camps. UNHCR staff in Dadaab report that the floods are comparable with the massive flooding which followed the record 1997 El Nino rains that swamped much of low-lying eastern Kenya.
Latrines have either collapsed or are full of flood water, posing a serious health risk, particularly to children who may be playing in the water. UNHCR information teams are today visiting the camps to warn residents about the consequences of drinking flood water which may be contaminated. Food warehouses have also been affected.
UN aid agencies appealed for $35 million last month to care for over 34,000 Somalis who fled just over recent months, a number that could reach 80,000 by the end of this year, joining tens of thousands uprooted by earlier violence and drought in Somalia. UNHCR has so far available only $3.7 million against its $10.2 million share of the joint appeal.