Floods bring havoc to Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya

© UNICEF video
Somali refugee children like this boy are among those worst-affected by the recent flooding in northeastern Kenya.

By Sarah Crowe

The worst floods in years have affected more than 1 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda in recent weeks, destroying homes and cutting off entire villages. Here UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports from the region, where a long drought left the soil too dry to absorb the rains.

DADAAB, Kenya, 4 December 2006 – It was early Saturday morning and Kusa Yunis Hassan, 23, a Somali refugee mother of two, emerged from her plastic shelter. Her son Mohammed, 3, was playing outside. There had been a deluge for the past two weeks.

Kusa had a lot on her mind. Her family had just fled the fighting in Afmadu, in neighbouring Somalia, 500 km away. But right now she needed to feed her first-born.

She turned her back and went off to milk a goat for his breakfast. Minutes later, Mohammed was nowhere to be seen. For three days, Kusa and her heavily pregnant sister searched, but all they found were small footprints in the drying earth. Then Kusa’s sister gave birth to a baby girl.

The next day, Mohammed’s body was finally discovered in chest-high water. He was buried on Tuesday of this week under some dry thorn bush.

© UNICEF video
Stagnant pools left by flooding in northeastern Kenya have heightened the risk of waterborne diseases and malaria.

‘I cannot go home’

Recently divorced, Kusa has lost her father in the fighting, her mother through disease and now her son in the floods. She and her family have been in Ifo Camp 2 outside Dadaab for nearly three weeks. They are among some half a million affected by the floods in northeastern Kenya.

“I haven’t been able to eat or drink anything since I lost my baby,” said Kusa. “There is trouble in Somalia. I cannot go home now.”

While Kusa’s face looked drawn from trauma, her sister, nursing a tiny new baby, had the calm of a new mother about her. Life does go on, despite what some say are the worst floods in the Horn of Africa in 20 years, or at least since the last El Niño in 1997.

As the waters subsided briefly this week, the impact of the floods here became clear:

  • Homes have been abandoned and wrecked, with families forced to find refuge in schools
  • Livestock and livelihoods are lost
  • Destroyed latrines have infected the water supply
  • Paediatric wards are bursting at the seams with new admissions
  • Elephants have destroyed food crops, and overflowing rivers mean crocodiles remain a constant fear.

Uncertain future

With bridges destroyed, some 30 trucks carrying aid from the World Food Programme were stuck on the road from Garissa to Dadaab for 22 days.

“It is overwhelming, for government and even the humanitarian organizations cannot access all the people in need,” said UNICEF’s field monitor in Garissa, Ore Abdikadir. “The future of these people does not look good. We are expecting diarrhoeal diseases to be on the rise because latrines have been destroyed, contaminating the water. We may have cholera if things continue like it is now, and malaria is a big worry.”

Some relief assistance – including water bladders, therapeutic feeding supplies, maize and rice, oral rehydration salts, emergency health kits, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets – is starting to trickle in from the Kenyan Government, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

But with mounting political instability on the border, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is concerned about the growing numbers of asylum-seekers from Somalia adding to the precarious situation. Predictions of worsening weather and the recent release of floodwaters at the Kiambere Dam on the Tana River, which runs through the region, have added to worries about reaching those in need.

In a region that has suffered extreme drought and now extreme floods, thousands of families like Kusa’s are unlikely to be able to fend for themselves for some time to come.




4 December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on the devastating effects of recent floods that have hit northeastern Kenya.
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5 December 2006:
UNICEF's Field Officer in Garissa, Kenya, Ore Abdikadir, tells UNICEF Radio about how recent flooding in the region has affected the people there, with special impact on the children.
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