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Thousands of Refugees Caught up in El Niño-triggered Heavy Rains in East Africa

In News, World
May 06, 2024

GENEVA:
Thousands of people, including refugees, continue to be caught up in the ongoing El Niño-triggered heavy rains and severe flooding sweeping across East Africa .

UNHCR , the UN Refugee Agency, is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other displaced people being forced to escape once again for their lives after their homes were washed away.

In Kenya, nearly 20,000 people in the Dadaab refugee camps – which host over 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 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.

In Burundi, around 32,000 refugees – nearly half of the refugee population in the country – 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. Access to food and other necessities is increasingly difficult as prices have risen due to high fees to use canoes to move goods. Education has ground to a halt as classrooms are flooded and learning materials destroyed. Beyond Bujumbura, rent prices have reportedly doubled, making it too expensive for many refugee families to relocate, leaving them with little choice than to remain in their water-logged homes. Nyanza Lac commune in Makamba province, an area that has received 25,000 Burundian refugees returning home from exile in the past few years, is also badly affected.

Other countries in the region where the displaced are among the hardest hit include Somalia, where over 46,000 internally displaced people in five locations in the south of the country have been forced to relocate due to flash floods, and Tanzania, where over 200,000 refugees mainly from the DRC and Burundi hosted in the Nyarugusu and Nduta camps have been impacted. Shelters within the two camps have been damaged, affecting some 200 families. UNHCR ’s office in Kigoma was also recently flooded.

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

In Kenya, we are providing refugees with relief items like tarpaulins, mosquito nets, dignity kits, soap and jerricans, with special attention to older people and those living with disabilities. We are helping families relocate to safer locations until the waters recede. In Burundi, as part of the interagency response led by the Government, UNHCR will provide shelter kits and cash assistance to help refugees. Thousands of former Burundian refugees who have returned to their country are among those prioritized for support. In Tanzania, we are working with local partners to rehabilitate refugee shelters. In Somalia, critical protection assistance and essential items are being delivered to internally displaced families.

Climate change is making many parts of the world – especially in fragile regions like East Africa and the Horn of Africa – increasingly uninhabitable. Storms are more devastating. Wildfires have become commonplace. Floods and droughts are intensifying. Some of these impacts are irreversible and threaten to continue worsening, and displaced people are bearing the brunt of the impact.

These floods show the gaps in preparedness and early action. Funding available to address the impacts of climate change is not reaching those forcibly displaced, nor the communities hosting them. Without help to prepare for, withstand and recover from climate-related shocks, they face an increased risk of further displacement.

In April 2024, UNHCR launched its first-ever Climate Resilience Fund to reinforce the need to build the resilience of refugees, displaced communities, and their hosts to the increasing intensity of climate-change-related extreme weather events.