Government faces backlash over response to flood crisis as multisectoral emergency efforts are mounted.

  • 9 May 2024
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri

The prolonged heavy rainfall has impacted nearly the entire country, leading to widespread flooding, triggering landslides, and resulting in a growing number of casualties and significant damage. 

The floods have impacted the agriculture, health, education, transport, and tourism sectors, which are just emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic-induced slump. 

While Kenya and Tanzania last weekend escaped major damage from tropical cyclone Hidaya which weakened after making landfall on May 4, the government has said the country will continue to endure torrential downpours and the risk of further floods and landslides. 

Even though climate events such as El Niño — the warming of the surface water of the Pacific Ocean, which causes heavy rainfall in some parts of the world — have been linked to the increase in rain, some Kenyans believe the flooding has been aggravated by the government’s lack of investment. 

The government has been accused of being unprepared and slow to respond to the crisis despite weather warnings, with the opposition, Azimio La Umoja – One Kenya Coalition party, calling for it to be declared a national disaster.

On May 3, President William Ruto addressed the nation and said the weather picture remained “dire,” blaming the disastrous cycle of drought and floods on a failure to protect the environment.   

The President said the government had adopted a “whole-of-government approach” to ensure an effective response to the crisis following meteorological reports forecasting increased rainfall. He said Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) would spearhead disaster response and mitigation efforts across the country. 


As the scale of the calamity widens, anger is growing over the pace of the government’s response and a lack of information about what happens to those forced to flee. 

Last week, Human Rights Watch, a non-profit organisation headquartered in New York, criticised the government’s action in a statement. The statement said that the government had failed to put in place a timely national response plan despite warnings from the Kenya Meteorological Department as early as May 2023 that El Niño would intensify Kenya’s rainy seasons. 

Opposition leader Raila Odinga said the government is unprepared to handle Kenya’s flood crisis, noting the heavier-than-usual rains across the country have exposed its shortcomings.

In a statement, the Azimio La Umoja – One Kenya Coalition leader noted that the government is failing, yet it presents itself as a champion of climate change issues. 

“The devastation has made clear that, as a nation, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn. The government has been talking big about climate change, yet when the menace comes in full force, we have been caught unprepared despite the fact that the Meteorological Department had accurately predicted the coming of heavy rains and storms. There were no advance contingency plans. We have, therefore, been reduced to planning, searching, and rescuing at the same time,” Mr Odinga said. 

Rapid response 

The government has mounted a multisectoral emergency response led by the Kenya Disaster Emergency Operations Centre. The centre is gathering information from the 33 affected counties for analysis and decision-making. At the National Public Health Emergency Operations Centre, around 36 staff are monitoring and leading the health situation and response, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners such as Kenya Red Cross Society, AMREF, FHI360, and Foundation for Professional Development.

The government also wants the National Assembly to approve Ksh10.6 billion to cater for emergency response on account of the flooding situation in the country. The details of the allocation are contained in Supplementary Budget II of the 2023/24 financial year, presently before the National Assembly for post-facto approval. 

The Ministry of Health has set up an incident management system team to monitor and manage disease outbreaks through surveillance, case management, laboratory, logistics risk communication, and community engagement. 

Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, WHO representative in Kenya, said WHO will continue to support the health emergency responses and remain vigilant for disease outbreaks that can easily spread if not quickly contained. “We must be agile and ready to respond, led by the government and along with the partners, to bring relief to hundreds and thousands of affected people,” said Dr Diallo.

WHO has also procured around 87 cholera, 58 interagency and 20 pneumonia kits that are being distributed to key counties and can treat around 10,000 people. 

Hilary Limo, the manager of the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre, said that going forward, they will need to look at the impact of the floods, continuity of care, and resilience capacity building in communities. “We need more rapid response teams and will work closely with partners to mobilise resources for this purpose,” he said.  

The ministry has set up medical camps, with the support of the Kenya Red Cross Society, to ensure continuity of health services to over 4,000 people who have been affected by health facility closures. More than 720 first responders, trained by WHO, are being deployed or on standby to provide health services to displaced people at the country’s 192 camps. More than 120 of Kenya’s public health professionals and experts, also trained by WHO, are deployed at the national level. 

The Office of the Spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, in a statement said the UN team was on the ground working closely with the government and its partners since the onset of the heavy rains earlier this year to respond to humanitarian needs.   

The statement reiterated the UN’s continued commitment to supporting the Government of Kenya in this challenging time. “And just on the floods, our team on the ground, led by our Resident Coordinator, Stephen Jackson, has been working closely with national and international partners since the start of the flooding to help support nearly 25,000 people with food and non-food items directly.”