Torrential rains batter Kenya
International aid floods in
January 16, 1998
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EST (1517 GMT)
GARISSA, Kenya (CNN) -- The government of newly re-elected Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi is being criticized for its
poor response to deadly flooding devastating the normally
Although the heavy rain has cut off entire districts and
threatened the country's tourism and farm-based economy,
Kenya's armed forces haven't been called in to help,
observers say. Instead, relief operations have been left in
the hands of international aid agencies.
"I have to be honest and say it's somewhat disappointing,"
Mike Sackett of the World Food Program said. "They have, of
course, been preoccupied with the election, but the election
is now over, and we'll be making it clear to the Kenyans that
we'll be looking for a much more active involvement on their
In a speech before the Nairobi Stock Exchange Thursday -- his
first in 19 years of rule -- Moi pledged to rebuild the
country's infrastructure, which already was crumbling before
the relentless rains. Moi wants to lure investors to Kenya.
Meteorologists in Kenya said rainfall over the last four
months has been five times the normal amount, and the rains
are expected to continue through next month.
At least 71 people have drowned, and about 700 more have died
from an outbreak of Rift Valley fever, which floods helped
spread by providing breeding pools for the mosquitoes that
carry the virus. At least 60 people have died of diarrhea.
The steady downpour, blamed on the El Niño weather phenomenon, has washed away bridges, submerged houses and triggered landslides in Nairobi,
blocking many of the major roads. Much of the rest of the
country is completely inaccessible by road from the capital.
In Nairobi, once rated as one of Africa's best-kept cities,
roads have collapsed or are pocked with craters, and sanitary
conditions are deteriorating.
"I have lived here for more than 10 years and can tell you
I've never seen anything like this," said businessman Unesmus
Gathoga, surveying his flooded house in Nairobi's Eastleigh
township. The house had been for rent.
"How can I rent this? There is water in the living room and
the bedrooms," he said.
Residents flee to camps
Outlying provinces also are in trouble.
In and around the provincial capital of Garissa, about half a
million people have been waiting for supplies and other aid,
which must be delivered by air.
Across Kenya, major rivers have burst their banks, washing
away houses and forcing thousands of people to move, some to
flimsy camps where there's almost no shelter from the
Moi was sworn in for fifth term earlier this month
"The rains have caused massive flooding and this one has
caused a lot of displacement to people," said Simon Kioi of
the Kenyan Red Cross. "It has also caused loss of lives to
both humans and animals."
Villagers who walk miles to obtain food from relief agencies
say there is hunger and disease in outlying villages.
"There's malaria," one old man said. "And other new
diseases, with people bleeding from their orifices, and
Whenever possible, clean water is pumped from canvas bladders
to taps. In some places, children dig holes in the road to
collect water, which can be surprisingly clean, because the
sand acts as a natural filter.
The World Food Program's relief operation has doubled the
length of time it was due to run, since there's no sign that
the rains will stop soon.
The agriculture department predicted that the flooding will
cause Kenya to face widespread famine this year, estimating
that some 52 million hectares (128 million acres) of cultivated land
may be destroyed.
The Daily Nation newspaper, in a Wednesday editorial, urged
the government to make contingency plans to cope with the
imminent food crisis.
"The greatest danger to the entire country will come from the
combined impact of the current destruction and the aftermath
of this unusual weather," the newspaper said.
Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.