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Kenya Declares National Emergency in Flood Crisis - 2003-05-07

The Kenyan government has declared the floods ravaging the country a national disaster. Relief agencies are doing their best to prevent an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Relief supplies were airlifted to the most needy flood-hit areas in western Kenya. About 36,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the floods.

In addition to being cold, wet and hungry, many of the flood victims do not have access to clean water, making them vulnerable to cholera, malaria and waterborne diseases.

Anthony Mwangi of the Kenya Red Cross Society, which the government has designated as the focal point for relief distribution, says the Red Cross is providing cholera drugs, mosquito nets, chlorine tablets and rehydration salts to try to ward off disease.

"There is a possibility that we could be dealing with an outbreak of malaria and cholera," said Mr. Mwangi. "The entire sanitation system has been compromised, and the pipes have been broken. The water system has been completely contaminated and the people cannot drink water. So we have dispatched the necessary chlorine tablets to purify that water."

The Kenyan government has declared the floods a national disaster. On Wednesday, a government team toured the worst affected areas to assess the situation and come up with a plan of action.

Tens-of-thousands of people have already been forced to leave their homes because of the floods, and many thousands more could soon be displaced. Meteorologists are predicting the rains will continue to the end of the month. The floods have already killed 30 people.

Mr. Mwangi says residents in the Tana River region on the country's coast have been told to vacate their homes before they are flooded.

"A warning has been issued to the district officers to prepare for a major flood, sudden flood that will hit the area because there is a dam that will release its water because it is full and so the sudden gush of water will flood Tana River," said Mr. Mwangi.

In Nairobi, about two million residents have been without water since Sunday, when a dam that supplies water to the city burst. The army has been called in to repair the dam as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, vendors have been making a lot of money selling jerrycans of water to desperate residents of the capital. Those who cannot afford to buy water have been drawing it from rivers and drainage ditches.