Kenya: UN seeks urgent funds to respond to flooding in refugee camps

6 November 2009

The United Nations refugee agency is appealing for $2.8 million to provide essential supplies and respond to possible disease outbreaks among more than 300,000 refugees in two camps in Kenya threatened by flooding.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that the agency has already begun to make engineering improvements in the two camps – Kakuma in north-western Kenya and Dadaab in the east.

Located some 90 kilometres from the border with Somalia, Dadaab – the largest refugee site in the world – is actually a complex of three camps that were built to house 90,000 people but today are home to more than three times that number.

“We fear that the looming El Niño 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.

UNHCR began digging trenches and placing sandbags around hospitals, boreholes and other strategic locations in both camps when the heavy rains began three weeks ago. The agency noted that if not for these and other measures, many sections of the camp would have been inundated.

Mr. Mahecic added that UNHCR is 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.

It has also diverted two seasonal rivers, the Tarach and Lodoket, to protect refugees in Kakuma, the camp that has been hardest hit by floods in the past.

This is not the first time these two camps have had to deal with the impacts of severe flooding, UNHCR pointed out. The worst flooding in Kakuma was recorded in May 2003, during which the homes of some 16,800 refugees were destroyed. In addition, a number of latrines overflowed and collapsed, leading to the spread of water-borne diseases, including cholera and dysentery.

The overcrowded Dadaab complex last experienced severe flooding in 2006, the agency added.

Meanwhile, flooding in neighbouring Somalia has displaced at least 16,000 people in the country’s Hiraan, Gedo and Lower Shabelle regions, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today.

Most of the displaced have sought accommodation with relatives, whose homes are located on higher ground, to escape the floods that have damaged river embankments, collapsed latrines and contaminated shallow wells.


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