Wed, Nov 15, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Devastating floods in Kenya claim lives of at least 23

DELUGE As delegates met at a UN conference on climate change in Nairobi, ordinary Kenyans may have been experiencing its effects first-hand

AFP , NAIROBI

Devastating floods triggered by unusually heavy seasonal rains have swept through north and coastal Kenya, killing at least 23 and forcing more than 70,000 from their homes, officials said on Monday.

Among the dead and displaced are Somali refugees at UN camps in northeast Kenya, where at least two people, a pregnant woman and a young child, drowned and 13,000 already homeless people were left without even scant shelter, they said.

Those fatalities brought to 23 the death toll across Kenya from three weeks of torrential downpours that have ravaged the country and displaced 60,000 Kenyans in addition to 12,600 Somali refugees at the UN's Dadaab complex.

And, with rains continuing, officials warned of further devastation, while delegates meet in Nairobi at a UN conference on climate change that many blame for altering weather patterns and causing deadly drought-flood cycles.

Ironically, at the conference on Monday, the UN was presenting a report on harnessing the "massive potential of rainwater harvesting in Africa," which it said could supply more than enough of the continent's needs.

"We have floods across the country and, since it is still raining, we fear the situation will deteroriate," said Abdi Ahmed, the acting disaster response chief at the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

At the weekend, at least six people, including a schoolgirl, were swept away and drowned by raging waters around the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa and the northeastern town of Garissa, officials said. Two others are missing.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Monday that two of its three camps at Dadaab, about 470km northeast of Nairobi, had flooded beginning on Friday, compounding the misery of nearly 90,000 Somali refugees.

It said two refugees had drowned and that 12,600 had been left without shelter at Dadaab's Ifo and Dagahaley camps, that it feared for the spread of water-borne diseases and that supply routes had been cut to the facilities.

The deaths and damage are just the latest from the unusually heavy October-to-December "short rains" season, that began to impact late last month.

Since then, at least 60,000 Kenyans -- 50,000 on the coast and 10,000 in the northeast -- have been forced from their homes by flood waters that have washed away crop fields, bridges and roads and destroyed numerous buildings.

"All these people are directly affected or completely cut off and we cannot access them," Ahmed said.

On Saturday, the main road linking Mombasa, about 500km southeast of Nairobi, to Tanzania was cut off with four bridges washed away, a local official said.

"We are looking for water, shelter and medicine for the affected people, but in the long run we will be required to assist up to 200,000 people here," said Moffat Kangi, the commissioner of Kwale district just south of Mombasa.

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