Kenya orders flood evacuations as it warns dams could spill

Residents wade through flood waters after a river burst its banks in heavy rainfall in Kitengela, near Nairobi, Kenya.
People in areas expected to flood have been ordered to evacuate by Friday evening [Reuters]

The Kenyan government has ordered people living near 178 dams and reservoirs to evacuate as heavy rains continue.

The interior ministry warned that the water bodies "have filled up or are nearly filled up and may spill over any time, posing a high risk to persons living in their neighbourhood".

It gave residents living near them - as well as those within a 30m (98ft) wetland corridor of the Nairobi River - 24 hours from 18:30 local time on Thursday to leave or be forcibly evacuated.

Recent heavy rains have caused severe flooding and landslides across Kenya and Tanzania.

On top of this, President William Ruto has warned the country could face its first-ever cyclone.

Some 210 people have died in Kenya since March, with a further 90 missing, according to the latest official estimates. A further 155 people have died in Tanzania, and 29 in Burundi.

At least 50 people are thought to have died when a mudslide tore through Kenyan villages near Mai Mahiu while they slept. Flooding has also affected the capital, Nairobi.

In an address to the nation, President Ruto said: "This cyclone, named Hidaya, could hit any time and is predicted to cause torrential rain, strong winds and powerful and dangerous waves which could potentially disrupt marine activities in the Indian Ocean and settlements along the Kenyan coast."

He also warned that the rains would "persist, increasing both in duration and intensity for the rest of this month and possibly after".

The Kenyan meteorological department said Nairobi is expected to be among the areas worst affected by the storm.

The interior ministry said the situation "could get dire because the soils around the country are fully saturated" with water.

A Kenyan firefighter gives directions people as they travel across a road heavily affected by floods following torrential rains in Kitengela, Kenya.
Flooding is set to worsen as a cyclone tips heavy rain on already saturated soil [Getty Images]

The ministry added that it had established temporary shelters, food and essentials for evacuees, which would be placed at assembly points.

Included in the evacuation were areas near the Nairobi Dam and Titanic Dam. Buildings within the Nairobi River wetland area would be removed, the interior ministry said.

It is unclear how many people will be affected by the evacuation order.

Mr Ruto also ordered that all schools, which had been due to reopen on Monday after the Easter holidays, remain closed until further notice because of the flooding.

The Kenyan government has faced criticism over the speed of its response to the ongoing natural disaster.

Although President Ruto said the government would procure land for those who have had to leave their homes, some displaced people are still stranded after their homes were swept away.

The government says it has set up more than 100 camps to house over 27,500 people.

But that is a fraction of the more than 190,000 people who have been affected by the floods, according to government data.

Mr Ruto has defended his administration, telling the BBC on Monday that "a whole-of-government approach is under way".

Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Mr Ruto's office said victims of the floods were "increasingly receiving help with food and non-food items" and attributed the extreme weather to climate change.

"[The] cabinet resolved that the government, from now on, will rally the country in implementing measures, programmes and policies that will mitigate the effects of climate change," it pledged.

One of the biggest drivers of the rains is the Indian Ocean Dipole - opposing areas of warm and cold surface water often refered to as the "Indian Niño" because of its similarity to El Niño in the Pacific.

Warmer surface temperatures caused by climate change pushes more moisture and energy into the atmosphere, making weather patterns more erratic and severe.