From killer droughts to devastating floods

Thursday December 21 2023

Millions of homes and critical infrastructure such as roads submerged by flood water in Bardhere, Somalia following heavy and torrential rains in the area. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Oxfam Africa

Six months after a historic five-season drought, massive floods have inundated vast swaths of farmland across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, right in the middle of the harvest season. Over four million impacted people across the three countries have also been forced to flee their homes and farms.

Oxfam has issued a dire warning - saying over four million people urgently require humanitarian aid - amidst the ongoing harvest season.

The scale of the catastrophe is starkly explained by the plight individuals like Zainabu Hussein, a mother of nine children from Buna, Wajir County in Northern Kenya.

She is among those who have been worst affected by first drought which displaced her from her home only now to face the devastating floods. The cascading waters continue to wreak havoc, compounding the challenges faced by Zainabu and million others who have found themselves in similar circumstances.

“I woke up and found my mattress soaked in water. All the utensils in the house were floating on the water. I immediately woke up and assisted my children. We ran outside the house and water was everywhere. We then crossed to dry land to seek refuge on higher ground.”

It took about three days before the water subsided. Together with other displaced residents, they would send those among them who knew how to swim to get them food from the shops.


“There is little food in the shops, which is expensive. We came back to town after five days. But we couldn’t get into our houses because of the mud.”

In Kenya, over 100 people and nearly half a million have been displaced, according to the Interior Ministry. Persistent rains since October have affected 38 out of 47 counties across the country, which have been hit by flash floods, general flooding, and mudslides,

In Somalia alone, the heavy Deyr (October-December) rains also killed over 100 people and devastated one-fifth of the harvest in Southcentral Somalia. This includes 1,400 metric tonnes of sorghum in Juba and Shabelle, which have wilted. It is expected that 1.5 million hectares of farmland in Somalia will be adversely affected by the floods.

A bridge connecting Bardhere region and other parts of the country completely destroyed by heavy rains in Somalia

A bridge connecting Bardhere region and other parts of the country completely destroyed by heavy rains in Somalia. PHOTO | COURTESY

“The worsening climate crisis is a harsh reality for those already suffering hunger and destitution in East Africa. Today, millions of people are pummelled by consecutive weather extremes they are hardly responsible for, with absolutely nothing to shield them or help them rebuild their lives,” said Oxfam in Africa Director Fati N’zi-Hassane.

Similarly, in Ethiopia's Somali region, hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The destruction of several roads has hampered transportation and caused prices of food and basic commodities to soar.

Speaking at COP28, N’Zi-Hassane called on rich polluting nations to accelerate loss and damage compensation for countries hit hardest by climate change.

Aid agencies have reported that surges of water-borne diseases like cholera due to damaged latrines and lack of access to safe drinking water.

Oxfam, together with and partners is scaling up humanitarian response to support affected communities affected by the floods. This includes providing food, water treatment units, hygiene kits to over thousands of people across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, in addition to providing gender protection programs to the most impacted people. 

Relief efforts to reach those in the hardest-hit areas of the camp with food, clean water and medical aid have been hindered by damaged and impassable roads, according to Oxfam.


Following heavy rains that continue to claim lives, destroy homes and livelihoods, Oxfam is working with partners distribute hygiene and cash to those displaced by the floods from their homes. PHOTO | COURTESY

“At this year’s COP28, rich polluting nations - largely responsible for the climate crisis - must honour their obligation to provide climate finance for adaptation, and loss and damage, so that East African countries can free up resources to support impacted communities to adapt, recover and rebuild their lives,” added N’zi-Hassane.

The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requires $2.6 billion to support 7.6 million is just 42 percent funded ($1,087 million).

The cost of unrelenting floods

27.4 million – The total number of people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in crisis or worse levels of hunger


  • 20.1 million – The number of people who were experiencing food insecurity in 2023
  • Over 1.5 million The number of people who have been affected by the floods and over 600,000 have been displaced across seven of the country's 12 regions.


  • Over 500,000 – The number of people displaced by floods
  • Over 21,000 – Acres of their farmland devastated by floods
  • 13,500 The total number of livestock that have been killed by floods


  • Over 100 The number of people who have been killed by the heavy rains in Somalia
  • 1/5 – Proportion of the harvest devastated by floods in South Central Somalia, including 1,400 metric tonnes of sorghum in Juba and Shabelle
  • 1.5 million - Hectares of farmland in Somalia that have been adversely affected by floods
  • Over 2.4 million – The number of people impacted by heavy Deyr seasonal rains and floods across Somalia
  • Over 1 million – The number of people displaced in the heavy floods