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El Niño: More than 76 dead, 34,000 displaced so far in Kenya, report shows

A report by Public Health Emergency Operations Centre has revealed distressing figures of fatalities, displacements and an escalating health crisis in Kenya in the wake of the heavy rains that are currently pounding the country.

According to the report, as of November 23, 2023, flooding had led to the death of 76 people across 33 counties in drowning incidents and other calamities. Additionally, 16 people sustained injuries, while one person remains missing in Marsabit County, adding to the grim data.

The report paints a bleak picture of displacement, with 34,155 households forced out of their residences across 15 counties due to the ravaging effects of the El Niño-triggered calamities. These displacements have taken a toll on affected communities, leading to major disruptions of livelihoods and access to essential services.

The havoc wrought by the heavy rainfall attributed to the El Niño has manifested in numerous ways, including 82 reported cases of cholera in Lamu County, marking the third wave of this waterborne disease since its outbreak in October 2022. Furthermore, 224 cases of severe diarrheal illnesses were reported in Wajir County, although subsequent tests ruled out cholera as the cause.

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Other health crises exacerbating the situation include an alarming surge in malaria cases, notably 539 suspected cases in Mandera and 25 cases in Garissa counties. At least 37 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) have also been reported in several counties, highlighting the multifaceted challenges stemming from this crisis.

The toll on healthcare services has been substantial, with 25 sub-counties across 13 counties reporting disrupted health services. The interruptions in healthcare provision have been noted in areas such as Embu, Garissa, Homa Bay, Mombasa, Nakuru, and others, further exacerbating the challenges faced by affected communities.

The ongoing heavy rains and resultant floods have not only claimed lives and displaced thousands but have also caused infrastructural damage, hindering access to healthcare and response interventions. The disruption to connectivity, power and infrastructure has severely hampered the ability to address the escalating crisis effectively.

This impacts on rainfall vary from one year to another but usually has a general tendency to increase between October and December in Kenya. The current rains are projected to continue until January 2024.

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The heavy rains and flooding were preceded by several months of severe drought in most parts of the country, and now even Kenyans in the urban settings are struggling with flooding which has also become frequent in urban areas during this period.

According to the report by PHEOC, there is also an increased risk of waterborne and vector-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses, and occurrence of more deaths, injuries, missing persons, loss of farmland, disrupted businesses, economic activities, food insecurity, gender-based violence and mental health among other issues.

Efforts to manage the crisis have been underway, with key actions outlined in the report including enhanced disease surveillance, risk communication and community engagement strategies. However, challenges persist, notably the inaccessibility of certain counties due to roads being cut off by floods and incomplete reporting tools from some areas, hindering the efficient delivery of aid and support.

As Kenya battles the aftermath of the El Niño-triggered deluge, concerted efforts by government bodies, humanitarian organizations, and the community at large are imperative to mitigate the escalating crisis and provide necessary aid to the affected populations across the country.