In Kenya, WFP assists families displaced by El Niño floods

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WFP is providing food to about 83,000 people in affected by flooding in Tana River and Garissa counties © WFP/Martin Karimi

WFP is providing food for at least a month to around 83,000 people affected by flooding in the eastern parts of Kenya. Heavy rains have displaced thousands from their farms, leaving them without access to food.

Heavy rains caused by the El Niño weather pattern have brought severe flooding to eastern Kenya since the start of the short rainy season in October, displacing thousands of people in Garissa and Tana River counties in recent weeks.

The Tana River – Kenya’s longest river – starts hundreds of kilometers west of here in the mountains of central Kenya, and spreads into a broad delta when it reaches the low-lying coastal plain.

The excess rains have caused the river to breach its banks, inundating farms and villages along its meandering course.

“More than 40 camps for people forced from their homes by flooding have sprung up across the Tana Delta,” said Rotuno Kipsang, the head of WFP’s Garissa office, which covers Tana River. “For at least the next month, WFP will provide emergency food assistance to support 83,000 people in Tana River and Garissa counties – more than half of them in the Tana Delta area alone.”

WFP is distributing some 1,400 metric tons of food through the Kenya Red Cross and Woman Kind Kenya, a local NGO.

“These families have lost their crops and do not have access to their farms. They don’t have any means of feeding themselves for now,” said Rotuno.

Early awareness

Villages along the floodplain have all been evacuated. The local administration was instrumental in sounding the alert early enough.

“The chief came and asked us to move to safer and higher grounds,” said 52-year-old Zainab Safao Alui. “We’ve been camping here for three months, starting October.”

The camp is called ‘Umoja’, or unity, named after a village across the river, one of the many villages evacuated before the rains intensified. Close to 160 families are now crammed into this roadside camp.

Zainab is happy that she heeded the early warning call.

“We are glad that we ran to safety in good time, but life in this camp is harsh.”

Not enough help

Umoja camp is a hastily-assembled settlement near Minjila town, along the Hola-Malindi road. Small domes stand out amid the roadside brush, where people have built makeshift shelters out of curved sticks covered with blankets, sacks, plastic sheets and mats.

“Here, life is very difficult. Our children are falling sick because we don’t have toilets or clean water; and when it rains, these flimsy tents cannot protect us,” said Zainab. “This area is also heavily infested with mosquitoes.”

“I’m delighted that you [WFP] have remembered us and brought us some food. It will keep us going as we wait for the flood waters to subside, so that we can go back to our farms,” she said.

Our livelihood source and the bane of our lives

Zainab is a farmer, like the rest of the families in Umoja camp.

“My farm is flooded and the house is under water. My husband often wades to the farm to check on the crops. Sometimes he comes back with some farm produce - whatever he can salvage,” said Zainab.

Maclean Paul Ziunge comes from Shirikisho village, another community living along the banks of Tana River. He is living in Shirikisho camp, also along the Hola-Malindi road.

“We live along the river because it is our only source of food and income. We fish from the river and grow crops on the fertile riverbank. This is what our forefathers did; it is how we make a living,” said Maclean.

“We plant crops on the moist silt because the rest of the land is not arable. If we move away from the river, we will not have any food,” he said, adding that it will take another month or two for the ground to dry enough for planting.

Maclean is frustrated because the mango season is ripe, yet he cannot reach his farm.

“Mangoes are rotting in the water. The maize would have matured in February, but it has all been swept away,” he said.

More flooding, more needs

So far, WFP has provided displaced families with food rations to last a month.

However, if the rains continue, the power-generating dams upstream may have to discharge the excess water – further inundating the already saturated Tana Delta, and prolonging the flooding.

“These families will require support to bridge the food and nutrition gap till the next harvest, and that means we’ll have to find the resources to assist people for longer than a month,” said Rotuno Kipsang of WFP.

Story by Martin Karimi, WFP Kenya.