Houses along Mathare river Kenya
Natural disasters

Floods in Kenya: “Waterborne diseases like cholera and mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria are significant concerns”

Raging floods have hit Kenya, killing nearly 200 people and displacing tens of thousands in Nairobi and other parts of the country, as heavy rainfall continues to batter the country since March. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Kenya started supporting those affected by the floods. With ongoing heavy rainfall across Kenya and the region, MSF teams will remain vigilant, assessing needs and providing assistance. Hajir Elyas, MSF's Head of Mission in Kenya, shares the latest updates and concerns in response to the flooding crisis.

What are the latest updates that you can share about the floods in Kenya?

Since late March, Kenya has experienced unusually heavy rainfall, leading to widespread flooding across the country. Over the past two weeks, flooding has severely impacted approximately 30 counties, resulting in loss of life, infrastructure damage, and disruption to daily activities. Official reports confirm 188 deaths and 90 people still missing, with many others injured or displaced from their homes. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs regular medical operations in Kenya in collaboration with the Kenyan health authorities. On Thursday and Friday, our staff conducted needs assessments in Eastlands, Nairobi and Homa Bay, and continued in the following days in other locations in the country. In Eastlands, our teams have seen about 1,000 displaced individuals temporarily housed in nine locations, such as schools and government buildings. Many others affected by the floods had sought refuge with family and friends.

What are the main needs the MSF teams found on the ground?

Some people have lost loved ones, we found few who were in acute mental trauma. The people displaced have lost everything, including shelter and clothing, and children are more vulnerable. There were some cases of hypothermia among children. Destruction of latrines leads to poor water and sanitation conditions, as people are still forced to use river water sometimes because there is no safe water available. The immediate needs include shelter, access to safe water and sanitation, access to healthcare, mental health needs, access to medicines for people with chronic diseases, and access to food among others.

MSF team member and community members carry clothing to be distributed to children under ten years
MSF team member and community members carry clothing to be distributed to children under ten years
MSF/Lucy Makori

What has MSF’s response been to that emergency?

We launched our intervention in Nairobi on Saturday 26 April, focusing on immediate needs like drinking water and sanitation. We distributed around 15,000 litres of clean drinking water and provided 200 jerricans for those lacking containers. Additionally, to address sanitation concerns, we set up mobile latrines at various sites where displaced people had gathered.

Recognizing that many had lost everything, including clothing, we distributed warm clothes to about 500 children vulnerable to hypothermia and respiratory issues. To support medical care, our clinic in Mathare, Lavender House, where we typically handle trauma cases exceptionally expanded the services to meet a broader range of health needs of the displaced communities in Mathare. We also offered mental health support, with our psychologists providing counselling to those experiencing acute trauma, such as a mother who tragically lost her child in the floods.

In addition to the Eastlands, our teams in Homa Bay also assessed the situation across the county, where about 700 internally displaced people (IDPs) had gathered in schools and other locations. Due to flooding from overflowing rivers, health facilities were overwhelmed, and supplies were exhausted. MSF initiated mobile clinics to provide primary care and connect patients with chronic conditions to our Homa Bay facilities for ongoing treatment. We are also planning to install additional sanitation facilities like toilets to meet demand.

In Nakuru County, water built up in one of the railway tunnels forced its way downhill causing a devastating flood that struck Mai Mahiu, causing deaths and destroying homes, cars, and infrastructure. At least 50 people died, with many more injured or missing. MSF assessed the area and supported a local health centre with medical supplies, such as dressing kits, as the centre's staff were exhausted and their resources depleted. 

What are the risks for the coming days and weeks, as it will likely continue to rain?

Flooding-related risks extend beyond immediate injuries and displacement. Waterborne diseases like cholera and mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria are significant concerns. MSF is prepared to increase disease surveillance and collaborate with hospitals to respond to potential outbreaks. Additionally, heavy rains persist, with forecasts indicating continued rainfall into early May. This ongoing weather pattern heightens the risk of further damage to houses.

The impact of these floods is profound, with long-term implications for livelihoods, infrastructure, and mental health. While MSF addresses urgent medical needs, the broader recovery will require sustained efforts from multiple sectors, including government, to rebuild and support affected communities.

Flood-related health risks are numerous, including respiratory infections, asthmatic attacks, and complications from interrupted medication regimens for chronic diseases.

The risks of waterborne diseases like cholera have increased, with Kenya having regions like Nairobi where cholera is seasonal. In the aftermath, breeding sites for mosquitos increase may lead to malaria outbreaks. Ultimately, there is a risk of buildings falling because if you have a building that's not very well built, and the base gets wet with the floods it takes time but suddenly breaks.

MSF remains committed to addressing these challenges and working with communities, local authorities and agencies to provide comprehensive support to those affected by this unprecedented flooding crisis in Kenya.

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Article 7 June 2024