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UN: Kenya Storms Leave 23,000 Homeless - 2001-11-07

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is struggling to deal with the devastation caused by torrential rains that left tens of thousands of refugees without shelter in Kakuma, in northwestern Kenya. Four days of severe storms and high winds last week wrecked much of the camp which houses more than 80,000 refugees.

The U.N. refugee agency says more than 23,000 people were left homeless by the storms. Kakuma is located in an arid region of Kenya and is not prepared for the type of torrential rains that buffeted the area for four days.

UNHCR spokeswoman Delphine Marie has said the downpour flooded latrines and affected camp water systems. She said the storms also forced aid workers to suspend the distribution of food. But, she said the distribution of food rations resumed this week.

"We have taken urgent measures with regard to people without shelter. That includes moving women and children to community centers. We have a certain number of community centers, sport centers, schools and other buildings in the camp that are now being used to house the most vulnerable people. Other people have taken shelter with family and friends in the area. Of course, it is only a temporary arrangement at the moment," she said.

The UNHCR has begun building a new site outside Kakuma and, on Wednesday, the first 300 people were to be moved there from the reception center.

Ms. Marie says the dried mud, branches, and plastic sheeting used for family shelters were too flimsy to withstand the force of the rains. She says the UNHCR has begun a program to gradually replace these old mud huts with materials that are stronger and more resistant to severe weather.

She says emergency work also is underway to replace latrines which were damaged during the flood. "We are busy with out partners building new latrines because the latrine system has been flooded and this raises, of course, concerns for health and sanitation situation. We have undertaken a global assessment of the sanitation situation. This includes digging latrines and setting up new water wells higher up on the hills to avoid any contamination or any problem with the water," she said.

The UNHCR says more than two-thirds of the 81,000 refugees at the camp in Kenya are from Sudan. The others are from Somalia.