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Many in Kenya are angry with the government's response after months of heavy rains


East Africa has endured months of heavy rains and flash floods. A devastating combination of seasonal weather patterns, natural weather phenomenon, and human-caused climate change has killed more than 450 people across the region. Nearly half those deaths have been in Kenya where hundreds of thousands have been displaced. And as the rains show no signs of relenting, many in Kenya are increasingly angry with the government's response there, as Emmanuel Igunza reports.

EMMANUEL IGUNZA: An hour's drive north of Nairobi, we arrive in Mai Mahiu. This was once a bustling livestock and vegetable market town, now a scene of devastation. Huge boulders, trees and cars are strewn over a large muddy stretch of land, which used to be home to about 100 people. Nearly a week after a deadly mudslide here killed more than 60 people, survivors and volunteers are using their bare hands, sticks and shovels to look for missing loved ones trapped under the debris.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: (Non-English language spoken).

IGUNZA: The village elder, Peter Njuguna, says people here are angry at the slow pace of the recovery operation.

PETER NJUGUNA: (Speaking Swahili).

IGUNZA: "There are children's bodies still down here," he tells me.

People are desperate for government help. The president has called the floods an unprecedented crisis and has launched a series of emergency measures. Schools have been closed for the foreseeable future. But in some cases when the government has intervened, it has been disastrous.

ISABELLA MOGENI: (Speaking Swahili).

IGUNZA: For decades, Isabella Mogeni called Nairobi's sprawling Mukuru kwa Reuben slums her home. It's here amidst the corrugated arm shacks and crammed busy alleys that she built a family and a business. But last week, she lost everything within hours as heavy stormwater swept through the streets, killing dozens.


IGUNZA: She was lucky. She survived. But hours later while she was out at the market, her house and hundreds of others that had survived the deluge were demolished by city authorities.

MOGENI: (Non-English language spoken).

IGUNZA: "They should never have done this to us," she says. "I have no clothes to wear apart from what I have now. If we had a notice, we would have moved away. Can the president now tell us where to go?"

The government had warned people that it would forcefully evacuate anyone living in informal settlements along swollen river banks and dams. But demolition of the structures began a day before the expiry of the 48-hour deadline, catching many people unawares. Hundreds of displaced families are now sheltering in overcrowded schools, churches and other public buildings with little food, clean water, or proper cover from the heavy rains that continue pounding the country.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Yelling, inaudible).

PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO: So that we can protect them in a different place where we have relocated them.

IGUNZA: On Monday, President William Ruto toured the slum areas where the evacuations had taken place, seeking to reassure people.


RUTO: There will be enough food for them. There will be blankets.

IGUNZA: For the wider East Africa region, March to May is usually the long rainy season. But this year, countries have received higher than average rainfall partly driven by the El Nino weather pattern.

REENA GHELANI: These countries are facing the brunt of the climate crisis today.

IGUNZA: The United Nations climate crisis coordinator for the El Nino response, Reena Ghelani, has been touring affected communities and says much more needs to be done to help the most vulnerable.

GHELANI: By 2030, we could have 10 disasters a week because of climate change. And even when they're not more frequent, what we are seeing is that they're more intense.

IGUNZA: It's a chilling message for people here already too familiar with the vicious cycle of floods, drought and hunger.

For NPR News, I'm Emmanuel Igunza in Nairobi.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Igunza