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Widespread flooding has already killed hundreds in East Africa


After one of the most prolonged droughts on record, many East African countries are now suffering from devastating floods. Somalia, Kenya, parts of Ethiopia - they have been battered by relentless rains that began more than a month ago. The rains are caused by a confluence of weather phenomena, as Michael Kaloki reports from Nairobi.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MICHAEL KALOKI, BYLINE: Residents wade through the fast-moving, filthy floodwaters in the Kenyan town of Garissa. The rains here have shuttered roads, displaced thousands and wiped out crops.


KALOKI: This is supposed to be the short, rainy season - one of two. But this year, the rains have not stopped. The widespread flooding, which has killed nearly 300 people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, has been described as the worst in decades by the United Nations and others, exacerbating an already precarious situation in many parts of East Africa. Pascal Cuttat is the head of the International Red Cross in Somalia.

PASCAL CUTTAT: We have currently a confluence still of the Indian Ocean dipole of El Nino. We have a cyclone building up in the Indian Ocean. We have rains continuing in the highlands of Ethiopia. All of that means that this is not over, and it's not yet at its peak. It's getting worse, and these people are going to suffer more.

KALOKI: The combination of these two climatic events, aggravated by climate change, has caused what the U.N. described as, quote, "once-in-a-century flooding" in countries like Somalia.


KALOKI: That's led to massive displacement in places like the Somali capital of Mogadishu, where many have been forced out of their homes and to camps on the outskirts of the city. Khadija Nur Ali says they've lost everything.

KHADIJA NUR ALI: (Speaking Somali).

KALOKI: "The flood swept everything, including our mattresses," she says. "We ran for our lives. We are really in a hard situation. May God help us."

This time last year, Somalia, like many other countries in the Horn of Africa, was suffering from one of the most prolonged droughts on record, leaving millions of people on the brink of starvation. Now, most of the region has gone from drought to deluge, and with it comes the threat of waterborne diseases and destroyed crops. Thousands of livestock animals have also been killed and large tracts of agricultural farmland submerged.

In Kenya, the country's president, William Ruto, hasn't called for a state of emergency yet.


PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO: The information that we have is that rain is going to continue. Kenya is already soaked.

KALOKI: And meteorologists back this up with predictions that the worst is not over and the rains are likely to continue into the new year.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Kaloki in Nairobi, Kenya.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "YOUR POWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Kaloki