Devastating Floods in Kenya and Across Africa: A Climate Crisis Unfolding

by Frank Ogallo

In recent months, Kenya and other countries across the region have faced unprecedented flooding, causing widespread devastation. The flooding has resulted in significant loss of life, displacement of families, and extensive damage to infrastructure. As communities grapple with the immediate impacts, it is clear that this disaster necessitates action to mitigate future risks against extreme weather conditions. While climate change mitigation is not one of Pharo Foundation’s three central missions, in many ways it permeates much of its development interventions. As it did during the Somaliland drought of 2022 when it donated 100 water trucks to the Somaliland National Drought Committee, it has now taken action in response to the Kenyan floods, thereby helping to address the human tragedies that follow from climate change.

The Beginning of the Crisis

Since October, heavy rains have battered Kenya, affecting over 101,000 people, displacing thousands, and claiming at least 29 lives. The northeastern, central, and coastal regions were the hardest hit, with landslides, mudslides, and flash floods causing widespread destruction. Wajir and Mombasa County reported power outages due to fallen electricity pylons, while impassable roads have disrupted food and medical supplies.

In a nationwide assessment, 192 dams were identified as high risk, with the Seven-forks hydro-electric dams overflowing into downstream areas. These dams, located along the lower part of the Tana River basin, have exacerbated the flooding in Garissa County, displacing an estimated 32,000 people who are now housed in camps established by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). In Tana River County alone, nearly 70,000 people were affected.

Impacts on Health, Infrastructure and the Economy

As of May 9, the National Disaster Operations Centre (NDOC) reported 267 deaths, 188 injuries, 75 missing persons, and 281,835 displaced people (56,367 families). Yet the flooding has not only displaced families but also posed severe health risks. The contamination of clean water sources and water stagnation have heightened the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera. As of May 8, there have been 48 reported cases of cholera in Garsen West Ward and Garsen Central Ward. Authorities and humanitarian partners are on high alert, enhancing surveillance for vector-borne diseases across all 47 counties.

Extensive damage to infrastructure was recorded, including 41,562 acres of cropland, 61 roads, 886 businesses, 1,967 schools, 1,465 water sources, and 62 health facilities as of May 9. Additionally, the destruction of numerous bridges has severely disrupted transportation and business activities, isolating towns and counties and hindering economic recovery efforts.

Flooding also has far-reaching implications for Africa's productivity and economic stability. The loss of livestock, destruction of cropland, and damage to businesses will have long-term effects on economic growth. Agricultural areas along many rivers have overflown, causing extensive crop damage and threatening food security in the region. The loss of 9,973 livestock and damage to 41,562 acres of cropland will severely impact agricultural productivity, a critical sector for many African economies. Displacement and school damage disrupt education, affecting the prospects of millions of children.

East Africa’s Climate Struggle: From Drought To Floods

The Kenyan floods cannot be dissociated from other climate developments in the region. In the Horn of Africa, the crisis is compounded by severe drought conditions that have persisted for years. This region has faced alternating extremes of drought and flood, which have devastated livelihoods and left millions in need of humanitarian assistance. The ongoing drought has severely affected areas in which Pharo Foundation operates, such as Somaliland, Ethiopia, and parts of Kenya, exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition. The network of hafir dams, which the Foundation has built in Somaliland in particular since 2016, is its central initiative on climate change. Yet as East Africa increasingly exemplifies the instability of climate extremes that comes with global warming, new initiatives are needed to contain the various manifestations of environmental damage.

Pharo Foundation's Response 

Pharo Foundation saw the collateral effects of the flooding first-hand, with parts of Pharo School Nairobi being rendered inaccessible and preventing staff from reaching the school, leading the government to postpone school openings. Luckily our school is now back running as normal but not all have been so lucky and floods have severely disrupted education, with many students unable to attend school due to damaged infrastructure and displacement. This not only affects current educational outcomes but also has long-term economic implications, should the issue persist.

In response to the devastating floods, Pharo School Nairobi and Pharo Foundation’s head office organised a flood drive to support the affected communities by providing essential supplies such as clean water, food, clothing, and medical aid to those displaced by the floods.

The flood drive team was proud to raise Kshs. 69,000, which was matched by Pharo Foundation to amount to Kshs. 138,000. The Foundation and parents of the school also provided other dry food stuff, clothing, shoes, and sanitary material. The donations were given to the Mathare Social Justice Centre, a community organization in Mathare that was established by young community members in 2014 to promote social justice.

The floods in Kenya and across Africa highlight the urgent need to address climate change and build resilience against it. As communities recover and rebuild, it is essential to take both immediate and long-term actions to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience. Only through collective effort can we hope to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect the livelihoods of millions across the continent.