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Rainy Season Threatens Kenya's Internally Displaced

  • Derek Kilner

With the arrival of the rainy season, Kenya is facing the usual challenges of flooding and disease. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, there is a particular risk for the hundreds of thousands living in displacement camps as a result of post-election violence.

Flooding is a yearly concern in Kenya. Since the onset of rains this year, at least seven people have been killed in floods. The coastal district of Taveta, has been the worst-affected, with close to 8,000 people displaced.

Nyanza province, near Lake Victoria in the country's west, has also been hit hard. A cholera outbreak there has killed 39 people.

Rainfall has been low compared to recent years, and the damage from flooding has not been particularly severe. But relief officials say they are concerned by the threat to the people living in Kenya's displacement camps.

Political and ethnic violence following December's disputed presidential elections caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, with 200,00 staying in camps.

Anthony Mwangi of the Kenya Red Cross Society, says camp residents, particularly children, are at risk from heavy rain.

"The shelters in IDP camps would not be able to provide very good cover as far as cold is concerned so we are likely going to experience certain challenges in the form of health issues such as pneumonia, colds, malaria. These are natural in such times, only that now there are more children out in these circumstances, there are more vulnerable people," said Mwangi. "Obviously the children play around in these camps and it is a challenge. You cannot stop children from playing, but they are playing in very muddy areas, diseases are likely to occur."

The rains have been a particular concern for camps around the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, where residents have been relocated to higher ground. But if strong rains continue, there could be increasing problems elsewhere. The largest concentration of camps is in the Rift Valley and around the capital, Nairobi.

Mwangi says the Kenya Red Cross is urging the government to take steps to allow IDPs to return to their homes.

"We would like very much for these guys to go back to their homes and be resettled as quickly as possible. It is not conducive for them to stay on any extra day in these IDP camps. But there are complex issues that have to be addressed first before they go back to their land," he said.

Many of those displaced belonged to ethnic minorities in their communities, and had their homes attacked by members of other tribes, often neighbors. Many IDPs say the government must take steps to ensure security before they will be willing to return.

Special Programs Minister Naomi Shaaban, who is in charge of resettlement policy, has said the government requires more money to implement programs, but has given little indication of what the timeline might look like.