Heavy rains and flooding kill dozens as extreme weather racks Kenya

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NAIROBI — Devastating floods during Kenya’s rainy season, aggravated by climate change, have killed at least 38 people and displaced thousands as rivers burst their banks and inundated low-income neighborhoods.

Social media sites were awash Thursday with images and videos of people on rooftops of submerged houses. Residents across Nairobi neighborhoods used boats to rescue those stranded by the rising floodwaters.

Venant Ndighila, the emergency response manager of the Kenya Red Cross, said 38 deaths and 11,275 displaced people have been reported across the country. He warned about accompanying risks, including disease outbreaks and the disruption of goods and services.

April is traditionally the peak of the spring rainy season, said David Koros, assistant director of the early-warning system at Kenya’s Meteorological Department. “Right now we have the remnants of what was happening last year in terms of El Niño effect, where we had a lot of the temperatures in the Indian Ocean that were a bit high.

“For the last two weeks, we have had extreme rainfall being observed over several parts of the country,” he said, which followed a heavier-than-usual rainy season at the end of last year. Even the north of the country has been getting rain after experiencing severe drought in 2023 that resulted in a major loss of livestock.

“The frequent extreme weather events such as the occurrence of droughts and heavy rainfall are definitely effects of climate change,” he said, adding that after weeks of 1.5 to 2 inches (40 to 50 millimeters) of rain a day, the ground was saturated.

“There are other factors we can talk about in Nairobi,” Koros added. “For example, how is the nature of the drainage? How is the nature of the growth of the population? How is the nature of economic development such as infrastructure, the buildings, material used?”

In Nairobi’s Mathare slum, volunteers coordinated by activist Happy Olal searched for those swept away by the rising waters. By Thursday, they had recovered four bodies.

“We are alone. There is no government. We are just here,” Olal said. “There are 400 homes that have been washed away in Mathare alone, and you know Mathare is big. It is disappointing that the government has left the people alone.”

Many Kenyans on social media expressed anger at the government for the slow response in helping those affected. Some cited infrastructure built along river beds, blaming the flooding on corruption and a lack of government oversight of developers and construction companies that put up the buildings.

In a news briefing Thursday afternoon, Kenyan Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the government was setting up an emergency response center to monitor “what is happening across the country and initiate immediate intervention to save lives and property.”

In Kiamaiko ward, another settlement in Mathare, Emily Kwamboka and a group of women volunteers gathered to sort donations they had just received for those displaced by the floods.

“The problem is just not the floods,” she said. “The problem is the poverty in these areas, poverty that is causing people to live near rivers, to live in houses made of iron sheets where, when floodwaters come, there is no chance of survival.”

By Thursday evening, Kwamboka said, the volunteers had managed to get some clothes and blankets for most of the displaced in her area. “Now we have to see how the women and children will have dinner as we wait for tomorrow,” she said.

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