UNHCR prepares for possible flooding in Dadaab refugee camps; appeals for US$2.8 million

News Stories, 6 November 2009

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
Preparing for the Worst: Refugees moving to higher ground at Dadaab when it was hit by floods in 2006.

GENEVA, November 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday called on donor countries for an extra US$2.8 million to help more than 300,000 refugees in two locations in northern Kenya threatened by flooding.

"We have already begun to make engineering improvements in the two camps Kakuma in north-western Kenya and Dadaab in the east on the Somalia border," UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, told journalists in Geneva, adding that much of the money would be used to pre-position essential items such as fuel, blankets and plastic sheets, and to respond to possible outbreaks of disease.

Mahecic said UNHCR feared that the looming El NiƱo 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.

When heavy rains started three weeks ago, UNHCR began digging trenches and placing sandbags around hospitals, boreholes and other strategic locations in both camps. The agency has also been repairing culverts on seasonal riverbeds that connect different parts of the three camps at Dadaab. Without these measures, many sections of these camps would have been inundated.

"We are also 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," Mahecic noted.

In order to protect refugees in Kakuma, the camp harder hit by floods in the past, UNHCR has diverted two seasonal rivers, the Tarach and Lodoket, that have often flooded lower grounds.

The worst flooding in Kakuma was recorded in May 2003 when some 16,800 refugees saw their homes destroyed. A number of latrines overflowed and collapsed, leading to the spread of water-borne diseases, including cholera and dysentery. The overcrowded Dadaab complex, home to more refugees than any other site in the world, last experienced severe flooding in 2006.