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UNHCR raises alarm as thousands of refugees displaced by heavy rainfall in Africa

Friday May 3, 2024

FILE -  A mother and her 10 children moved to a refugee camp in Kenya in March 2022 after drought ravaged her crops and livestock back in Somalia. © UNHCR/Charity Nzomo

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Thousands of people, including refugees, have been displaced from their homes due to heavy rains in Central and East Africa, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern for the thousands of refugees and other displaced individuals who have been forced to flee as their homes were washed away by the ongoing El Nino-triggered heavy rains and severe flooding in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania.

"Without help to prepare for, withstand and recover from climate-related shocks, they face an increased risk of further displacement," the UNHCR said in a statement.

The Climate Prediction and Application Center of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said recently that Kenya is among countries in the Horn of Africa that is experiencing abnormally heavy rains this season. The others are Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

"Temperatures in the countries are also warmer than average, with episodes of elevated levels of heat stress in northern South Sudan and southern Somalia," the center said in a recent update.

According to the UNHCR, nearly 20,000 people in Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya, which host more than 380,000 refugees, have been displaced due to the rising water levels. Many of them are among those who arrived in the past couple of years after fleeing severe drought in neighboring Somalia.

Some 4,000 people are currently sheltering in six schools with facilities that have been extensively damaged, the UNHCR said. "The others are staying with friends or relatives in other parts of the camp. Several latrines have collapsed, putting refugees at risk of deadly water-borne diseases," it said.

The refugee agency said that around 32,000 refugees, nearly half of the refugee population in Burundi, are living in areas affected by the floods, with 500 of them requiring urgent assistance.

"In the capital, Bujumbura, refugee families along with many Burundians, including elderly people, have had to relocate multiple times as water levels continue to rise," it said.

The agency said access to food and other necessities is increasingly difficult as prices have risen due to high fees to use canoes to transport goods.

According to the UNHCR, other countries in the region where the displaced are among the hardest hit include Somalia, where over 46,000 internally displaced persons in five locations in the south of the country have been forced to relocate due to flash floods. In Tanzania, more than 200,000 refugees, primarily from the DRC and Burundi and hosted in the Nyarugusu and Nduta camps, have been affected.

"The UNHCR is working closely with local authorities and partners, rushing crucial aid and providing protection services to refugees and affected communities living nearby," it said.

The UN agency said that these floods expose gaps in preparedness and early action, noting that the funding available to address the impacts of climate change is not reaching those forcibly displaced or the communities hosting them. ■


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